Amid uncertainty, allies prepare for no-fly zone

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 18 2011 11:23 a.m. MDT

LONDON — Britain and France took the lead in plans to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya on Friday, sending British warplanes to the Mediterranean and announcing a crisis summit in Paris with the U.N. and Arab allies.

France said it was "ready" for possible military action, but with Libya declaring a cease-fire and the United States keeping quiet about its own military role, questions remained about when any action would come — and what its consequences would be.

Prime Minister David Cameron, one of the most enthusiastic backers of a no-fly zone, said Britain would send Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets to air bases "in the coming hours" so they would be in position to stop Moammar Gadhafi's forces mounting air strikes against anti-government rebels based in the eastern city of Benghazi.

"The clock is ticking and we must be ready to act quickly," Cameron said, adding that Gadhafi must prove he was serious about a cease-fire to avoid military strikes.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States must see "action on the ground," not just words, on a cease-fire.

Britain, France and NATO were holding emergency meetings Friday on using military force to enforce the no-fly zone, which was approved by U.N. Security Council on Thursday.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said "everything is ready" for action, but declined to give a timetable.

"We have to analyze the conditions of the cease-fire," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO was "completing its planning to be ready to take appropriate action in support of the U.N. resolution as part of the broad international effort."

But there was no word from the U.S. military on what role it would take, and French government spokesman Francois Baroin would not comment on "where, how, what target, or in what form" air strikes against Libyan installations would come.

Officials announced that the leaders of Britain, France and Germany and the chiefs of the United Nations and Arab League would join other world leaders for an emergency summit on Libya in Paris Saturday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said "it is imperative that the international community continues to speak with one voice" on Libya.

As well as Britain and France, Denmark and Canada said they would supply fighter jets for the mission. Italy and Spain said they would make their air bases available.

Diplomats have said Arab countries likely to participate in possible strikes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The United States has a host of forces and ships in the region, including submarines, destroyers, amphibious assault and landing ships with some 400 Marines, but U.S. officials have not said what role American participation will take.

After the U.N. resolution, President Barack Obama spoke with Cameron and Sarkozy to coordinate further action. The White House said in a statement that "that Libya must immediately comply with all terms of the resolution and that violence against the civilian population of Libya must cease."

British defense analyst Charles Heyman said the Americans will have the bulk of the military responsibility, even though Britain and France took the lead in pushing for the U.N. resolution.

"It's easy for the British and the French to talk a lot about it when they actually don't have all the right equipment to maintain a no-fly zone on their own," he said.

NATO surveillance AWACS planes flying off the Libyan coast are already providing 24-hour coverage of the situation in the air and on the battlefields.

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