NATO defence ministers discuss Libya as Tripoli bombing intensifies

NATO defence ministers came together on Wednesday for a meeting expected to be dominated by Libya, hours after the military alliance stepped up its airstrikes on Tripoli, which remains under the control of embattled leader Moamer Gaddafi.

NATO has conducted more than 10,170 sorties over Libya since March 31, when it took over a no-fly zone and strategic bombing operations to prevent Gaddafi's regime from attacking civilians, DPA reported.

Most of NATO's hits on Tuesday were in Tripoli, with five command and control facilities bombed in the capital and another one in its vicinity, according to the latest operational update.

Gaddafi's compound appeared to be the target, according to local media and witness reports. NATO has in the past defended attacks on the compound, arguing that it constitutes a command and control facility from which Gaddafi sends orders to his troops.

A vehicle storage facility, two anti-aircraft guns and an air surveillance radar were also struck in the city, NATO said.

Fourteen of 28 NATO members are taking part in the "Unified Protector" operation. But only nine countries - NATO members Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the United States, plus the United Arab Emirates - have agreed to conduct air raids.

France and Britain, which have recently committed combat helicopters, and Italy, which joined the bombing campaign in April, are experiencing a "certain fatigue" and would like others to join the fray, a diplomat said.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he would press countries that have shied away from joining the fight in Libya - such as Germany and Poland - and those that are providing limited support - such as Spain and Turkey - to reverse their positions.

"I absolutely understand that there is a certain strain in these countries - not least because of the length of the operation - and a hope that the operation will soon end," Germany's secretary of state for defence, Christian Schmidt, said as he arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

But Schmidt also said that Germany would stick with its position of not participating in the Libya mission.

Also on Wednesday, the ministers are expected to tackle the difficult subject of streamlining NATO's structure. Last fall, allies agreed that NATO headquarters locations should be cut from 11 to seven, with permanent staff slashed from some 13,000 to below 9,000.

The ministers now have to decide where the axe should fall. A decision can only be taken by consensus. Portugal and Spain, which both stand to lose from the cuts, have expressed reservations.

Discussions are additionally foreseen with Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on missile defence. Russia wants legally binding guarantees that the system NATO is developing will not affect its nuclear arsenal.

[Source: Trend by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 08Jun11]

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