Allies Split Over Military Action in Libya, Obama Tries to Mend the Gap

By
Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

As air strikes continue over Tripoli, the coalition of allies is at an impasse over how to manage and enforce the no-fly zone. President Obama is eager to hand over command to NATO in the coming days so as to distance the U.S. from yet another Middle East intervention. Britain, Italy, Norway, and others support NATO's takeover as the obvious leader for a multinational coalition. But France is holding out. Nicolas Sarkozy, who some experts say is trying to smooth things over with Arab neighbors, wants NATO in a more subsidiary role. France would prefer to use its assets, but not under the NATO banner. Late Tuesday, Obama tried to mend the split by getting Sarkozy and British prime minister David Cameron on the phone. Turkey has also expressed doubts about NATO's role. A French official told the Financial Times, “The issue is not between us three at this stage.” Obama tried to assuage doubts, saying, "I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to transfer control of this operation to an international coalition." But while the split remains unresolved, the U.S. is still the de facto military leader.

Despite the impasse, NATO officials have begun to patrol the Libyan coast from alliance warships in order to enforce the U.N. resolution. An official told The Wall Street Journal that the naval mission, consisting of two frigates, six minesweepers, and a supply ship, will be led from NATO's operational center in Naples. Although it has slowed from the initial blitz, air strikes over Libyan skies continue. But a close-in siege in cities like Misurata is making it difficult for planes to intervene. As Libyan government forces continue their offensive in Ajdabiya and Misurata, it seems the next coalition impasse could be over how to proceed in case of a stalemate. It's a troubling notion as Qaddafi vowed no surrender on state TV last night, saying, "We will defeat them by any means. We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one."

Obama Seeks to Unify Allies as Qaddafi Vows Resistance [NYT]
Allies Strain to Mend Split [WSJ]
Obama seeks to break impasse over Libya [Financial Times UK]