Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

EU 'ready to send troops to Libya'

A Libyan rebel fighter looks toward the front line, on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya (AP)

Europe is ready to send an armed force to Libya to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid.

The proposal by the European Union to deploy the armed force to escort humanitarian aid drew an immediate warning from Muammar Gaddafi's regime that this would be tantamount to a military operation. France's foreign minister also said he was hostile to such a deployment.

The new tactics seem to have been spurred by the continued deadlock after two months of fighting between Gaddafi's army and rebel forces. There has also been growing international concern over the fate of the besieged rebel city of Misrata, where Nato has been unable to halt heavy shelling by Gaddafi's forces with airstrikes alone.

Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, has been under siege for nearly two months, with rebels holding on to seaside positions in the port area. In recent days, Libyan troops have pounded the city with shells and rockets.

Nato officials acknowledged that they were having trouble destroying Gaddafi's mortars and rocket launchers from the air, for fear of inadvertently harming civilians in such strikes.

"It's not a conventional war," said Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, chairman of Nato's military committee. He would not say just how much of the regime's firepower has been eliminated or put out of action by Nato's operations so far.

The fighting in Libya has been deadlocked for the past month. Gaddafi is holding on in the west, while the rebels control the east. Nato airstrikes have kept Gaddafi loyalists in check, but the rebels, a poorly trained group with little military experience, have not been able to score military gains, either.

The EU could deploy an armed force to Libya within days to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies, said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The EU has no standing army, and the personnel and equipment would have be donated by member countries.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he was "totally hostile to the deployment of troops on the ground."