NATO's command role in Libya taking shape: diplomat

BRUSSELS, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - NATO has drawn up a plan for a command structure to run military operations in Libya from an Italian base, a diplomat said Thursday, as it seeks to break a deadlock over taking over the campaign.

The day-to-day operational command would be located at NATO's base in Naples, with sub-commands for naval operations in the same location and for the no-fly zone at Poggio Renatico in northern Italy, the diplomat said.

An air force Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane takes off from the 702 French air force base to take part in an air surveillance mission above the Mediterranean sea on March 24, 2011. AFP

NATO's strategic headquarters, Supreme Headquarters Allied Power Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, would oversee the overall operations, the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The aerial mission would be overseen at Izmir, Turkey, but the day-to-day tactical operations would be run out of Poggio Renatico, the diplomat said.

Turkey blocked a new effort late Wednesday to give NATO a role in the no-fly zone, as it demanded an end to the bombing campaign conducted by a coalition led by the United States, Britain and France.

The diplomat said a compromise is taking shape among NATO allies that would allow countries opposed to the strikes to opt out of such operations while those that want to can continue the attacks.

The United States has been the de facto leader of the operations in Libya that started on Saturday, but US officials have said they want to hand off responsibility to someone else within days.

Several NATO nations want the alliance to take over command of the campaign, but France insists on leaving political control of the mission in the hands of a coalition while NATO would run day-to-day operations.

NATO ambassadors were to meet again Thursday to try to end the impasse.

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