Fellow Arab and African nations raised the international pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with tiny Qatar flying the Arab world's first combat missions over his country and the African Union imploring him to move toward democratic elections.
The military operation against Gaddafi, which yesterday also included airstrikes by British and French jets, remains a US-led operation, though NATO was preparing to assume at least some command and control responsibility within days.
A Libyan government delegation meeting in Ethiopia with African leaders — but not the rebels seeking Gaddafi's ouster — said he is ready to talk with his opponents and accept political reform, possibly including elections. But the delegation also said Libya is committed to a cease-fire that Gaddafi's forces have flouted since the government announced it, and blamed the current violence on "extremists" and foreign intervention.
NATO named Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard to lead its Libyan operation, finalizing what it hopes will be a unified command to oversee military action against the North African nation.
Envoys from NATO's 28 member countries agreed late Thursday to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. By tomorrow, the alliance expects to start doing so, as well as coordinating naval patrols in the Mediterranean to enforce the UN arms embargo against Gaddafi's forces. With further approval expected Sunday, NATO will take over the responsibility for bombing Gaddafi's military to protect civilians from attack.
A NATO official said yesterday that NATO now hopes to launch both operations simultaneously within a couple of days, avoiding the need for dual commands — NATO for the no-fly zone and the US for the airstrikes. The official requested anonymity because of regulations about speaking to the media.
A Qatari fighter jet flew the country's first sortie alongside a French jet yesterday to enforce the no-fly zone, the first non-Western military flight in support of the operation.
"Having our first Arab nation join and start flying with us emphasizes that the world wants the innocent Libyan people protected from the atrocities perpetrated by pro-regime forces," US Air Forces Africa Commander Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward said.
Aside from the United Arab Emirates, which has pledged 12 warplanes, the international effort to protect Gaddafi's opponents has no other countries from the Arab League, a 22-member group that was among the driving forces behind the UN Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. The United States has provided millions of dollars in equipment to many of the league's countries, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Qatar has close ties to the US military, a reputation for international mediation, and hosts the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network.
"Qatar has been a great ally from Day One," said Mustafa Gheriani, spokesman for opposition Benghazi city council. "It's an Arab country to be proud of."
A Health Ministry official, Khaled Omar, said a total of 114 Libyans have died in the international airstrikes, but he did not provide a breakdown of how many were soldiers or civilians.
"We think it is immoral and illegal to kill even our soldiers because we are taking defensive positions only," said government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
Army Gen. Carter Ham said late Thursday that although he was not sure whether civilians died in airstrikes, "we have been very, very precise and discriminate in our targeting." British Foreign Secretary William Hague went further, saying there have been "no confirmed civilian casualties" from airstrikes.Reuse content