U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and NATO leaders are pressing alliance members including Spain and Poland to step up or join an extended operation in Libya, officials said.
The two countries are among those with assets such as jet fighters that may help ease the burden on nations that have been attacking Muammar Qaddafi’s forces as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission for 10 weeks, a Western official said on condition of anonymity in order to discuss closed-door proceedings at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels today.
Gates urged NATO members to join the fight or remove limits they’ve placed on their participation, a U.S. official said separately, also on condition of anonymity to discuss the proceedings.
The U.S. defense chief, who is retiring at the end of this month, urged Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands during the meeting to consider joining strike operations, the most intensive element of the military campaign, officials familiar with the discussion said.
He also called for Germany and Poland, which aren’t participating in the Libya mission, to get involved, the officials told reporters. President Barack Obama failed to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join Operation Unified Protector during her visit to Washington this week.
Libya Operation Extended
Broadening military contributions has become more critical since NATO decided last week to extend the operation for an additional 90 days when the current mandate expires on June 27. The military mission currently involves 14 of NATO’s 28 members and four non-NATO countries: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Sweden.
Only France, the U.K., Canada, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and the U.A.E. are conducting air strikes on ground targets such as Qaddafi’s air defenses. Others are enforcing a no-fly zone against Qaddafi’s forces and conducting patrols under an arms embargo.
“I have also encouraged other allies to broaden their support for our operation,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels today, without naming countries. “We will keep up the pressure for as long as it takes to bring this crisis to an early conclusion.”
Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon said her country is committed to the goals of the Libya mission.
“Spain will remain in the mission till we achieve these goals,” Chacon told reporters in Brussels.
Rasmussen said Qaddafi’s collapse and departure may be only weeks away and that the United Nations should take the lead in coordinating Libya’s “long and complex” transition to a democratic state.
Even as the mission has strained some participating countries financially and militarily, the main reason for seeking to expand responsibility is to share the burden since the alliance agreed unanimously to pursue it, the U.S. official said.
The U.S. is doing about 75 percent of refueling to allow longer, more intensive strike operations and providing at least 70 percent of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the official said.
For some of the other countries carrying large parts of the burden, the Libya operation is their first air-to-ground war in a long time, if ever, the official said.
More Military Spending
Some NATO members have increased their military spending since the 1999 Kosovo campaign, which involved air strikes on ground targets.
Still, Danish and Norwegian forces are conducting more than the optimum pace of air strikes, while the Canadians and Belgians are flying at about the average rate, the U.S. official said.
The operation has been a lesson for NATO that such missions might arise quickly and members have to be better prepared, the official said.