We are stepping up Libya strikes, says Nato

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The Independent Online

Nato has dismissed rebel criticism of the pace of its military campaign in Libya, saying its number of air strikes is increasing every day.

"The ambition and precision of our strikes has not changed. The facts speak for themselves," said Carmen Romero, Nato's deputy spokesman.

She said the situation in the besieged rebel-held town of Misrata remains a priority for Nato's military operation.

On Tuesday, Abdel-Fattah Younis, chief of staff for the rebel military and Muammar Gaddafi's former interior minister, said Nato did not "do anything", even though the UN Security Council has given the alliance the right to act.

He blamed Nato's bureaucratic procedures for eight-hour delays between the time the rebels inform Nato of enemy targets and when its attack planes arrive.

"The people will die and this crime will be on the face of the international community forever. What is Nato doing?" Mr Younis said.

Nato assumed command of the aerial onslaught on Libya a week ago, conducting 851 sorties in the first six days.

Although the alliance does not normally release information on the number of air strikes on Gaddafi's forces, it said planes had bombed 14 targets on Monday.

Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who commands the Libyan operation from his headquarters in Naples, Italy, estimated that 30% of Gaddafi's military capacity had been destroyed.

Ms Romero said that contrary to rebel claims, "the tempo of operations is even increasing".

She said the alliance flew 137 missions on Monday, 186 on Tuesday, and that 198 were planned for Wednesday.

But Ms Romero added that Nato's priority was to avoid harming civilians and therefore "all operations are carried out in a very vigilant way".

French foreign minister Alain Juppe said the situation had become increasingly complicated because Gaddafi's forces are positioning themselves in heavily populated civilian areas to make targeting difficult.

Air strikes have destroyed most of Gaddafi's aircraft and armoured vehicles, and his troops are using pick-ups and less sophisticated weapons similar to those used by the rebels, Mr Juppe said.

"The military situation in the field is confused and uncertain," he said in a radio interview.

He also said the stand-off in the besieged western rebel-held city of Misrata was complicated by the need to prevent civilians from being mistakenly hit by the air strikes.

"Misrata is in a situation which cannot carry on," he said. "But I want to make clear that we categorically asked that there is no collateral damage on the civilian population, so it makes the military interventions more difficult because Gaddafi's troops understood it very well and are getting closer to the civilian populations."

"Nato is not doing their job, the air strikes are late and never on time. Nato is not helping us. Gaddafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces, that's why he is pushing us back," said Mohammed Abdullah, a 30-year-old former member of Gaddafi's army who has joined the rebel side. "We don't know what he would be able to do if there are no air strikes."

He said the rebels had fought back and were now about 12 miles west of Brega.