BRUSSELS — Britain said Tuesday that it will dispatch experienced military advisers to aid Libyan rebels in organizing their forces, as NATO and its allies struggled to break the stalemate in Libya without directly joining the fight on the ground.
The British decision came as NATO warned that there are limits to the effectiveness of air power alone in defending the rebel-held city of Misrata. Rebel leaders there acknowledged Tuesday that they could not hold out much longer against persistent assaults by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces and appealed for NATO to send troops immediately.
Britain emphasized that its military officers will not be directly involved in the fighting that has divided Libya over the past two months. But the decision to send the advisers represents a significant deepening of Western involvement and a recognition that the disjointed opposition force is incapable of dislodging Gadhafi on its own.
It also reflects British frustration with the limitations of the NATO air campaign, which in a month of strikes has not succeeded in decisively shifting the balance toward the opposition. The advisers will operate independently of NATO's command.
The British group consists of 10 military personnel who will participate with French liaison teams already on the ground, according to a European official familiar with the plans.
The British decision was denounced by Gadhafi loyalists in Tripoli as an act of war. Libyan officials said their forces would fight any foreign military personnel, even if they were there to escort humanitarian aid convoys, as the European Union has proposed.
The Obama administration has said it will not send ground forces into Libya, and senior U.S. military officials said they have received no instructions to plan such an effort. But the administration has not ruled out what State Department spokesman Mark Toner described Tuesday as stepped-up "nonlethal assistance." Toner also said that the possibility of arming the rebels has "not been taken off the table."