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'We are making a difference'

With little sign of the Libyan conflict being resolved anytime soon, the rebels have urged NATO to do more to help them. DW talked to the mission's military commander about the situation on the ground.

Charles Bouchard

Bouchard says NATO is making a difference in Libya

Lt. General Charles Bouchard is NATO Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Unified Protector for Libya. DW's Megan Williams interviewed him at the NATO base outside Naples, Italy.

Deutsche Welle: General Bouchard, I'd like to start with the Gadhafi forces' attack on the city of Misrata, which is turning into a humanitarian crisis with hundreds killed. Residents and rebels in the city have complained that while Gadhafi forces continue to bombard the city indiscriminately, NATO has done little to protect civilians lately. What is your response to this?

Bouchard: There is shelling taking place all the time. This is not accurate shelling, it's just lobbing rounds into the area. Gadhafi regime forces have no respect for the population. Inside the city, it's a very difficult, tough situation. Gadhafi forces have taken uniforms off, and they're hiding on top of mosques, schools. That's where their heavy equipment is. And they're shielding themselves with women and children. So when people ask why aren't you doing something, well, I'm not going to lower to his level and do the kind of warfare he's doing. My job is to help the population.

So if you can't protect the civilians inside Misrata, what other means does NATO have to weaken Gadhafi?

We're after his lines of communication, his ammo depots. We're after his command and control system. We continue to hit tanks where we can and not do damage that his forces are doing. We destroyed two more tanks in the Misrata area [on April 18]. So we continue to put pressure on him.

There have been some reports of rebels moving arms through the sea area controlled by NATO. Is NATO allowing the rebels to do this?

The policy is, we will allow movement of humanitarian assistance and enable the movemement of refugees and displaced persons and wounded away from Misrata and other ports. The arms embargo is in effect.

There's currently a stalemate in Libya, with neither side gaining ground. Do you see the standoff giving an advantage to one side or another?

Our job is to stop Gadhafi from hitting [the] civilian population, but what I want to make sure of is these stops don't become temporary moments for the Gadhafi regime to reload their weapons. And I'm working on that. It's a knife fight in a phone booth and it's very difficult to get in the middle of that, but sometimes you're better off to make sure nobody else gets inside that. And to make sure we stop the reinforcements.

The NATO mandate in Libya is to protect civilians. Yet Nato members Britain, France and the US have stated jointly that the mission in Libya will be complete when Gadhafi is forced out. Has this changed things for you?

My mandate is very specific and what individual nations choose to do is for them to decide. But the NATO mandate is very straight-forward and I have not had any changes in it. But we also have to understand that there is no single military solution to this problem.

The solution will come on the military, diplomatic and political front. The more the world joins together and says to Gadhafi and his regime, 'your behavior is not acceptable, you've lost moral and legal authority to control your people. And stop the violence against people,' that's when my mission will stop.

The NATO mandate excludes the possibility of ground troops going into Libya. But is there any possibility of ground troops going in to protect the humanitarian effort?

It's not for me to answer this question. I don't know. My mission is clear and the resources that have been given to me are clear. I have maritime assets, ships, and various kinds of aircraft, but I'm not aware or informed of any intent [to introduce ground troops]. NATO's current decision is no boots on the ground.

How successful would you define NATO's mission in Libya so far?

There are no fighters attacking civilians. There were three weeks ago. We stopped that. We stopped the movement of weapons moving in and out of country. We are making a difference and I'm convinced if we weren't there, there would be thousands of people killed and we've stopped that.

Interview: Megan Williams, Naples, Italy
Editor: Rob Mudge

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