16th Sep 2019

Nato moving warships and planes closer to Libya

  • Libya risks turning into a failed state and a breeding ground for terrorism, Rasmussen said (Photo: Nato)

Nato defence ministers have agreed to reposition warships and airplanes currently deployed in the Mediterranean closer to the Libyan coast and to "further explore" the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone.

"Today we have taken two decisions: to increase the presence of Nato maritime assets in the central Mediterranean ... and to continue planning for a no-fly zone in case Nato were to receive a clear UN mandate," Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a press conference at the end of a meeting in Brussels on Thursday (10 March) dedicated to the Libyan crisis.

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The repositioning of warships comes a few days after the military alliance increased its air surveillance missions on Libya from 10 to 24 hours a day.

"This will improve Nato awareness, which is vital in these circumstances, including a better monitoring of the UN arms embargo," the former Danish Prime Minister explained.

Mr Rasmussen also responded to an AFP report saying that France is calling for Nato powers to strike three Gaddafi military hubs.

The French ideas "were not discussed at all," he said, while sitting at the same table as the French defence minister. "We don't look for an intervention in Libya, we need a clear legal basis for any action."

Other ministers at the meeting confirmed that the French colleague kept silent about the airstrike plans which, according to AFP, French President Nicholas Sarkozy plans to present on Friday to fellow EU leaders during a special summit on the Libyan crisis.

"There was no such proposal [at the Nato meeting]. Maybe it was something for media consumption," Czech defence minister Alexander Vondra told this website.

US defence minister Robert Gates, speaking to reporters after the event, said that "planning continues for a no-fly zone."

"A number of ministers made it very clear that we want to put ourselves in a position to assist the UN, the African Union or the Arab League. It's essential that Nato is responsive in this endeavour rather than taking initiative on its own," he added.

Earlier this week, Mr Gates told Congress that a no-fly zone entails airstrikes and requires a UN mandate.

Nato's reluctance to "go in with the big guns" - as one diplomat put it - is also a reflection of wariness among some of its members, notably Turkey, to support any military action in Libya.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week said that "Nato has no business being there" and his defence minister on Thursday tried to downplay plans for a no-fly zone.

Mr Rasmussen was wary of labelling the situation in Libya as a "civil war" but did warn of the consequences of a prolonged conflict.

Speaking instead of an "armed upheaval," he said Nato was particulary concerned of "the risk of division within the country and the risk of seeing a failed state that could be a breeding ground for terrorism."


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