Nato takes sole command of Libya air operations

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The Independent Online

Nato assumed command of all air operations over Libya early today, taking over from the US, which had been eager to be rid that responsibility.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the transition was completed at 0600GMT (2 a.m. EDT) today, giving Nato sole responsibility for all aerial and naval operations in the region.

Nato now commands the international force that has been bombarding forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. A rebellion against Gadhafi's 42-year rule erupted last month, and international forces including the US, France and Britain stepped in March 19, just as it appeared Gadhafi was on the verge of crushing the revolt.

The Nato operation — codenamed Unified Protector — includes enforcement of a UN Security Council resolution mandating an arms embargo on Libya, enforcement of a no-fly zone and the protection of civilians from Gadhafi's troops.

"In line with the mandate ... Nato's focus is on protecting civilians and civilian-populated areas against the threat of attack," Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

The operation will be commanded by Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard from Nato's operational centre in Naples, Italy. There was no word on how many airplanes and military staff would be involved, but officials say dozens of fighters, fighter-bombers, air refueling tankers, AWACS surveillance planes, maritime patrol aircraft and search-and-rescue helicopters will likely be required for the operation.

They will be based at a string of Nato bases along the Mediterranean, including Italy, France, Greece and Turkey.

"The transfer of authority on air assets is now complete," Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "Everything that has been offered to us has been handed over.

"Nato is the only one issuing operational orders for the international effort," she added.

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