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NATO agrees to enforce no-fly zone in Libya

NATO has agreed to take over the role of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in the next few days. The military alliance is also exploring options for taking on a broader role, including ground operations.

A soldier stands in front of F-16 airplanes on the ground

NATO will take over command of the no-fly zone

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday night in Brussels that NATO will enforce the no-fly zone in Libya starting in the next few days. There are still other aspects of allied military operations that will not revert to NATO command.

"At this moment, there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation," Rasmussen said, adding that NATO could still take on a broader role, including taking part in protecting civilians on the ground.

Rasmussen said a decision on whether to broaden NATO's role beyond enforcing the no-fly zone could occur as soon as the weekend.

This follows an announcement from Turkish Foreign Minsiter Ahmet Davutoglu that Turkey had removed its initial opposition to NATO taking over command of the operation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was working toward handing over increasing responsibility to NATO in the international military action in Libya and taking a supporting role in operations.

The US State Department said Clinton would attend a Tuesday conference in London to discuss coalition military action against Libya. It said the conference would discuss the Libyan crisis, the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict

Ongoing air raids

Meanwhile, blasts and anti-aircraft fire rattled Tripoli Thursday as allied air raids against Moammar Gadhafi's forces continued to enforce a UN-backed no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians.

Rebels retreat as mortars from Moammar Gadhafi's forces are fired on them

Libyan rebels still face attacks from Gadhafi loyalists

While Western military officials have said that Libya's air force has already been all but destroyed, according to residents and rebels the air campaign so far has failed to stop Gadhafi's tanks shelling rebel-held towns or dislodge his armor from a strategic junction in the east.

Gadhafi's tanks rolled back into the town of Misrata under the cover of darkness and began shelling the area near the main hospital, residents and rebels said, resuming their attack after their guns were silenced in daylight hours by Western airstrikes.

The US military said it had successfully established a no-fly zone over Libya's coastal areas and had moved on to attack Gadhafi's tanks.

The French military said a French fighter jet shot down a Libyan military plane as it was landing at Misrata air force base. An armed forces spokesman was quoted as saying that the Libyan plane had violated the UN-imposed no-fly zone.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the international military operation against Gadhafi's forces may last days or weeks, but not months. Juppe added that he hoped the campaign in Libya serves as a warning to autocratic regimes elsewhere, including in Syria and Saudi Arabia.

A Danish F-16 is seen behind barbed wire as it lands at the Sigonella airbase, southern Italy, March 23

Allied fighter jets are continuing their air raids on Libya

Berlin wants tougher sanctions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Thursday for EU leaders to agree on tougher economic sanctions against the regime of Gadhafi, ahead of a summit in Brussels.

Merkel demanded a "complete oil embargo and far-reaching trade restrictions for Libya."

"I hope that we finally reach a joint position on this issue," the chancellor told parliament in Berlin.

Merkel stressed that Germany supported the aims of a United Nations resolution to use military force against Gadhafi's regime, despite refusing to participate in such an operation.

Germany, which has a two-year rotational seat on the UN Security Council, abstained from last week's vote on the resolution and said it would not contribute troops to the mission.

Berlin earlier this week withdrew air force personnel from NATO airborne warning and control (AWACS) planes enforcing the no-fly zone and detached Germany Navy ships in the Mediterranean from NATO command.

Author: Michael Knigge, Matt Zuvela (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Mark Rossman

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