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NATO criticized for not taking fight to Gadhafi ground forces

PARIS — France and Britain complained Tuesday that NATO commanders are not being aggressive enough in attacking Libyan army forces battling rebels for control of Misrata and other disputed cities in a bloody civil war.

The objections from Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and his British counterpart, William Hague, suggested that the two main militaries in the Western air campaign over Libya are running out of patience as other NATO countries decline to commit full-bore to the conflict and the situation on the ground increasingly sinks into a stalemate.

"NATO wanted to take over military operations, and we accepted that," Juppe said on France Info radio. "But it must play its full role, that is to say it must prevent Gadhafi from using heavy weapons against the civilian population."

NATO took over command of the operation over Libya from the United States on March 31. The Obama administration insisted Tuesday that the United States will stick to its plan to remain in the back seat of the Libya air campaign. "The president and this administration believes that NATO, and the coalition of which we remain a partner, is capable of fulfilling that mission of enforcing the no-fly zone, enforcing the arms embargo and providing civilian protection," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, "We still are offering support where we can. I don't think it's correct to say that there's somehow discord in the alliance."

But Hague called on NATO allies to contribute more to the battle, so that airstrikes can be more effective against forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that are laying siege to Misrata in the west and trying to gain control of Ajdabiyah in the east.

"We must maintain and expand our efforts in NATO," he said, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. "That is why the United Kingdom in the last weeks supplied additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets that threaten the civilian population. Of course, it would be welcome if other countries also did the same."

Brig. Gen. Mark van Uhm, NATO's Dutch chief of allied operations, rejected Juppe's criticism. At a briefing in Brussels, he said, "I think with the assets we have, we are doing a great job."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Attacks in Syria

Two northern Syrian villages near the port of Baniyas came under attack by government forces Tuesday, according to witnesses and activists, as President Bashar Assad's government intensified efforts to suppress an apparently intensifying protest movement. An unknown number of protesters were killed and more were injured, according to people the Washington Post reached by telephone in Syria. The White House issued a statement calling the use of force "outrageous."

.Fast facts

Clashes in Syria

Two northern Syrian villages near the port of Baniyas came under attack by government forces Tuesday, according to witnesses and activists, as President Bashar Assad's government intensified efforts to suppress an apparently intensifying protest movement. An unknown number of protesters were killed and more were injured, according to people the Washington Post reached by telephone in Syria. The White House issued a statement calling the use of force "outrageous."

NATO criticized for not taking fight to Gadhafi ground forces 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:14pm]

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