Apr 14, 2011by Stefan Nicola (UPI)
Berlin - NATO needs more high-precision fighter aircraft to strike weapons the Libyan regime is hiding in populated areas, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday in Berlin. After NATO pilots have flown around 900 strike missions and destroyed many of the Libyan army's tanks and armored vehicles, the armed forces led by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi are now changing their tactics. "They're hiding their heavy arms in populated areas," Rasmussen said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. "To avoid civilian casualties, we need a few more high-precision fighter aircraft for air-to-ground attack missions." Rasmussen said he didn't get specific pledges from NATO member states on new planes yet, but added that Thursday's talks in Berlin made him "confident that nations will step up to the plate." The meeting comes amid increasing frustration among Western politicians that Libyan rebel forces aren't able to hold ground despite Gadhafi's crumbling military power, and rising concerns that NATO airstrikes in Libya could lead to civilian casualties. Over the past days, France and Britain have complained that NATO member states aren't doing enough to defeat Gadhafi's forces. France had been one of the most outspoken proponents of military action against pro-Gadhafi forces and last month became the first nation to officially recognize the Libyan opposition. It was against a NATO lead after it became clear that the United States would pull its combat jets from the front lines, favoring a British-French operational command instead. Currently, only six of the alliance's members are carrying out airstrikes against ground targets in Libya, a NATO diplomat told The New York Times. On Thursday, the rebels asked for more NATO airstrikes to destroy forces attacking Misurata, a Mediterranean port city of roughly 300,000 that is being shelled by government artillery. Rasmussen Thursday underscored NATO's commitment to keep up the military pressure on Libyan forces. The alliance would "provide all necessary resources and maximum operational flexibility within our mandate," to strike regime forces until Gadhafi pulls all of them, Rasmussen said, including snipers and foreign mercenaries, out of areas they "have forcibly entered, occupied or besieged." Strikes will be flown until the regime commits to "immediate, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all the people in Libya in need of assistance," Rasmussen said. "We will not stand idly by and watch a discredited regime attack its people," he added. With the fighting so far resulting in a stalemate, Western leaders hope for Gadhafi to eventually leave the country. At a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the NATO meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said NATO members were united in their goal to "seek the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya." Germany had angered its allies when it abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote that green-lighted the airstrikes in Libya. The meeting in Berlin runs through Friday.