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Nato expected to command Libya ops

Britain has signalled that it expects Nato to take charge of all international military operations over Libya, including air strikes on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's ground forces.

After Thursday night's agreement for the US to hand command of the international no-fly zone to Nato - following days of diplomatic wrangling - Foreign Secretary William Hague said he expected the rest of the military operation to follow.

"I have every expectation that the whole operation, including the protection of civilians on the ground in Libya by our air strikes and missile strikes, will also be part of a Nato command," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

The Ministry of Defence said the threat posed by Gaddafi's air defences had been reduced to a "negligible level" and coalition air patrols could now concentrate on hitting his tanks and artillery.

This has been the most diplomatically sensitive part of the mission with some Nato member states, such as Turkey and Germany, reluctant to become involved because of the risk of civilian casualties.

Currently that remains a joint British, French and American operation - although the US administration has made clear that it wants to relinquish control of that part of the mission as well.

Mr Hague stressed that coalition patrols were doing their utmost to avoid civilian casualties, although he acknowledged that it was more difficult when Gaddafi's forces were attacking built-up areas like the city of Misrata in western Libya.

"In Misrata it is particularly difficult because the fighting is going on in built-up areas and so attacks on armoured units in built-up areas close to the civilian population do risk civilian casualties," he said. "We are doing our utmost to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. So it does make it more difficult to protect people in Misrata."

Senior military spokesman Major General John Lorimer said that it was clear the coalition operations were taking their toll on the regime's forces.

"Attacks on the integrated air defence system, whether from Tomahawks or aircraft, have reduced the threat from Colonel Gaddafi's surface-to-air missiles to a negligible level," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph