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France: Libya operation may last weeks, not months

By Jamey Keaten

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 24 2011 2:21 p.m. MDT

PARIS — The international military operation against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces may last days or weeks — but not months, France's foreign minister said Thursday, as allied countries tried to work out who will run the campaign.

Alain Juppe also said he hopes the airstrikes in Libya and the boisterous quest for freedom and democracy in the Arab world will serve as a warning to autocratic regimes elsewhere, including in Syria and Saudi Arabia.

"The job of dictator is now a high-risk job," Juppe said, noting that some autocrats — including Gadhafi — have been targeted by the International Criminal Court.

Juppe spoke ahead of EU and NATO meetings to discuss how to coordinate the campaign of airstrikes on Libya, which so far have primarily involved U.S., British and French forces. The U.N. Security Council authorized the no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians after Gadhafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who wanted him out after 42 years in power.

In Brussels, NATO officials said the Military Committee — the alliance's highest military body — met Thursday morning to review plans to enforce a no-fly zone. The decision-making North Atlantic Council, consisting of envoys from all 28 member nations, was set to review them later Thursday.

It has been meeting for six straight days, but a series of disagreements, including whether NATO should have overall political control over the operation and how aggressive rules of engagement should be, have so far blocked an agreement.

Juppe sought to debunk speculation that the allies were after oil-rich Libya's hydrocarbons.

"People always say that it's oil behind all this — that's not true," Juppe said. "To have consistent, cheap oil, the best thing would have been to change nothing in Libya. It's not oil that pushes us to all this."

Others expressed concern that the military campaign would drag on. Russia's former ambassador to Libya said Gadhafi could hold off coalition forces for months, still enjoys broad public support and will not step down. "I'm afraid it could turn into another Iraq, or a second Somalia," said Vladimir Chamov in Moscow.

"Libya has food supplies to last for just about four months and new supplies practically haven't been coming since the military operation has been launched," Chamov said.

EU leaders are holding a two-day summit beginning Thursday in Brussels at which Libya is expected to figure heavily. Among concerns are whether the Libyan opposition council is up to the task of running a country.

The EU summit also comes amid confusion over who is in charge of the international operation and its goals.

France and Britain appeared to be laying the groundwork for separating the operation into military and political sides. The military side could be managed by NATO, while the political side would be run by a different group that would include Arab countries.

France's defense minister, Gerard Longuet, was meeting Thursday with his Qatari counterpart to discuss Qatar's role in the military campaign. U.S. officials say the Persian Gulf country's forces could join by this weekend.

U.S., European, and Arab and African officials have been invited to London next week for political talks about Libya.

Juppe said on RTL radio Thursday that in addition to protecting civilians, the mission "is also about putting Gadhafi's opponents, who are fighting for democracy and freedom, in a situation of taking back the advantage." That suggested the French forces may be providing cover for rebel attacks.

NATO warships have begun patrolling the naval blockade of Libya, but NATO diplomats remained deadlocked over its role in the no-fly zone. They meet again Thursday to try to nail down rules determining circumstances under which the military alliance can use force, a NATO diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity, since he was not authorized to speak to the media.

NATO's top military commander, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, on Thursday met Turkish military leaders in Ankara, which has been seen as holding up an agreement for NATO to direct the no-fly zone.

In Italy, NATO's commander for the naval blockade said Thursday he expected he would have enough ships to effectively prevent weapons and mercenaries from entering Libya, but it was impossible to patrol the entire coast. Vice Adm. Rinaldo Veri of Italy held a first briefing at NATO's base in Naples a day after the alliance's vessels began patrols.

Italy has offered seven military bases for use by coalition aircraft but wants the operation to shift to NATO command out of Naples.

Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Nicole Winfield in Rome and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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