- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

NATO remained deeply divided over the future of the military campaign in Libya after foreign ministers meeting in Berlin Thursday debated calls for increased airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi.

Meanwhile, forces loyal to the Libyan dictator shelled the port city of Misrata, where anti-Gadhafi rebels still maintain some control, and some Western airstrikes shook the capital, Tripoli. Libyan state-controlled television showed Col. Gadhafi, wearing a green safari hat and sunglasses, riding in an open-top sport utility vehicle in the capital.

Britain and France have been calling on their NATO colleagues to increase the airstrikes since the United States handed off control of the mission to the alliance last month. However, most of the 28 member nations of the alliance are reluctant to get involved.

A German Foreign Ministry representative told The Washington Times in a phone interview from Berlin that Germany will not join the air war, originally launched to protect Libyan civilians.

“We said right from the beginning that we didn’t expect air operations to bring a solution to the conflict and that there would be pressure to go further than that,” said the representative, who spoke on background.

Germany abstained from a vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized airstrikes to protect Libyan civilians.

“If we had supported the U.N. resolution, it would mean that we, as one of the three biggest NATO members in Europe, would have been asked to contribute troops on the ground,” the German official said.

No Western ground troops have been committed to the civil war in Libya.

At the alliance meeting in Berlin, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO commander of the Libya mission, cited the need for more ground-strike fighter jets to successfully carry out the operation.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said the alliance needs “a few more precision fighters” to target Col. Gadhafi’s ground troops. He said he was confident more member states would “step up to the plate.”

Britain and France, which have led international calls for Col. Gadhafi to step down, have been shouldering most of the burden of NATO operations in Libya.

NATO took over command and control of all operations in Libya from a U.S.-led coalition on March 30. Earlier this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged other members of the alliance to do more.

NATO has not made any specific request for more airstrikes from the United States, which flew about 35 percent of the missions over the past 10 days. A spokesman said Adm. Stavridis’ request for more air support was directed to the other members of the alliance.

“This is not a request that goes to the U.S. It is a request that goes to other member states,” he said. “No one is finger-pointing at the U.S. for not providing this capability. Quite the opposite; the U.S. is providing a lot of capability.”

At the NATO meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed to the other NATO foreign ministers for unity over the Libyan campaign.

“As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Gadhafi is testing our determination.”

On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain called on the United States to retake leadershipip of the air campaign.

“The whole world is watching, but also the Arab world is watching. If we say the American policy is that Gaddafi must go, but we don’t implement that policy and end up in a stalemate, that’s a message I don’t think we want to send,” the Arizona Republican said at a Washington meeting of U.S. and Muslim leaders.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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