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On March 31, the Obama Administration gave command over military operations in Libya to NATO over French objections. The U.S. combat role officially ended but, like in Iraq, this declaration is nearly meaningless as American pilots continue to risk their lives. The U.S. is now engaged in military operations that are hamstrung by unreliable alliance members for the sake of preserving a stalemate.
The Obama Administration delayed action in Libya until it received the approval of the Arab League, the United Nations and NATO. It was eager to make sure the war was fought under an international banner, even though the U.S. would bear the brunt of the burden. The French government staunchly opposed giving command over to NATO, leading to fierce arguments between officials. France felt that it, along with the U.S. and U.K., should have political leadership over the war with NATO playing a supporting role. The French caved under American and British pressure.
It didn’t take long for fractures in NATO to appear after the handover. The French Foreign Minister and the British Foreign Secretary openly criticized other alliance members for not committing to the effort. Half of NATO’s members officially participated in the war, as did some other non-NATO countries, but only six were willing to actually carry out bombing raids with the other four being Norway, Canada, Denmark and Belgium. Many of the countries placed heavy restrictions on their military’s participation, forbidding bombing raids and attack missions and refusing to destroy certain types of targets like trucks. The end of the U.S. combat role decreased the amount of American aircraft available, such as the A-10 Warthog close-support aircraft.
The Libyan rebels quickly noticed a change and complained about the sudden decline in air strikes. “NATO has become our problem,” Abdul Fatah Younis, the rebels’ top military commander, proclaimed. He threatened to complain to the U.N. Security Council and said that he would recommend that the National Transitional Council suspend its partnership with NATO if the problems persisted.
“One official calls another and then the official to the head of NATO and from the head of NATO to the field commander. It takes eight hours,” Younis complained. He specifically pointed out the unwillingness of NATO to protect civilians in Misurata, which has been under siege from Qaddafi’s forces. “This crime will be hanging from the necks of the international community until the end of days,” he said. The local opposition government in Misurata is now asking for U.N. or NATO ground forces to save them.
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