NATO defends credibility of Libya air war



BRUSSELS- NATO defended the credibility of its air war in Libya on Tuesday after Italy warned that civilian deaths could undermine the campaign amid growing signs of strains within the alliance.
NATO insisted it had pained to avoid civilian casualties in its three-month campaign in Libya after admitting that a bomb misfired in Tripoli at the weekend, killing nine people according to Moamer Kadhafi's regime.



NATO defends credibility of Libya air war
"I would suggest that our reputation and credibility is unquestionable," said Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the mission's military spokesman.
"What is questionable is the Kadhafi regime's use of human shields, (and) firing missiles from mosques," Bracken told reporters from operation headquarters in Naples, Italy.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned that NATO's credibility was "at risk" following the alliance's first civilian casualties, and urged it to ensure it was not providing ammunition to Kadhafi's propaganda war.
"We cannot run the risk of killing civilians. This is not good at all," Frattini said Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers.
The blunder -- an embarrassment for a mission that prides itself on protecting Libya's people from the regime -- came on the heels of a friendly fire incident last week in which a column of rebel vehicles were hit by NATO warplanes.
Bracken rejected a regime claim of further civilian casualties, however, reiterating that an air strike in the western Tripoli suburb of Sorman on Monday hit a legitimate military target.
"If you look at our track record, we have taken utmost care to avoid civilian casualties and we will continue to do so," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
But Frattini's warning added to strains emerging within the alliance as the war drags on, with resilient Kadhafi refusing to step down while rebels struggle to defeat a better-trained army.
British Prime Minister David Cameron butted heads with his own brass over the campaign Tuesday after top officers warned that the military is overstretched.
After speaking with the heads of the army and navy, Cameron said: "They are absolutely clear that we are able to keep up this mission for as long as is necessary, and that time is on our side, not on Kadhafi's side."
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates have pressed allies to step up their roles in the mission to relieve nations like Britain that have borne the brunt of the work.
Bracken said NATO would "stay the course" in Libya and that the mission's commander "currently has all the assets he requires to carry out the mandate".
In the United States, Congress has threatened to cut off funding for the mission in a showdown between President Barack Obama and lawmakers accusing him of usurping power in ordering US action.
"Obviously there are debates in national parliaments as there are in Congress in the United States. That is absolutely understandable in an alliance of democracies," Lungescu said.
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Tuesday, June 21st 2011
AFP
           


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