NATO agrees to take full command of Libya operations

US officials say US will begin to cut role in military campaign, plan strategies on end of Gaddafi's rule; Libyan rebels push westward.

March 27, 2011 20:37
2 minute read.
Fighter Jet (illustrative)

Qatar Air Force Dassault Mirage 2000-5 fighter jet 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

BRUSSELS - NATO agreed on Sunday to take full command of military operations in Libya, a diplomat and a NATO official said.

"NATO has decided today to implement all aspects of the UN resolution 1973 to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack from the Gaddafi regime," a NATO official said after a meeting of the 28-member alliance.

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A diplomat from a NATO member state said the decision meant NATO now had full control of all aspects of the operation, ending nearly a week of heated negotiations over the chain of command.

"Everything will now be under NATO," the diplomat said.

Earlier, top US officials said said the US will cut its military role in Libya in the next week or so and start to focus with other nations on how to ease Gaddafi from power.

In television interviews, the US secretaries of state and defense raised the possibility that Gaddafi's government could splinter and said a London conference on Tuesday would discuss political strategies to end his 41-year rule of the oil-exporting North African nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on NBC's "Meet the Press" the United Nations would be sending a special envoy to Tripoli in the next few days with "a very clear message" to Gaddafi.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Libya was not vital to U.S. interests but the broader Middle East was, arguing that instability in Libya could undermine democratic transitions under way in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

"It's part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States," he added.

Libyan Rebels Pushing West

Sunday evening, witnesses in Sirte, the birthplace of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, said on Sunday they had heard two explosions in the area.

It was not clear if the explosions were in the city or on its outskirts, a Reuters reporter in the city said.

The reporter had earlier said a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns had been seen leaving Sirte and moving westwards towards Tripoli.

Libyan rebels, emboldened by the capture of Ajdabiyah to the east of Sirte, were aggressively pushing west on Sunday to retake more territory from Gaddafi's forces.

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