8 Jun 2011 By LAURENT THOMET DefenseNews
BRUSSELS - NATO's leadership pressed allies Wednesday to step up their contributions to the Libyan air war to finally dislodge Moammar Gadhafi and begin planning for the day after his downfall.
After three months of air strikes, defense ministers meeting in Brussels said time was working against Gadhafi and urged the defiant colonel to finally step down.
"All ministers agreed we will keep up the pressure for as long as it takes to bring this to an early conclusion," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference.
The ministers issued a joint statement pledging their determination to continue the mission "for as long as necessary."
They also said they were "committed to providing the necessary means and maximum operational flexibility within our mandate to sustain these efforts and welcome additional contributions to our common efforts."
With only half of 28 NATO allies taking part in the mission, Rasmussen and British Defence Secretary Liam Fox called on members to step up their participation.
"We want to see increased urgency in some quarters in terms of Libya," Fox said.
Only nine nations are conducting air strikes, with France and Britain carrying out the bulk of the attacks, including with helicopter gunships.
After NATO extended the mission by 90 days through September, Rasmussen said he had encouraged other allies "to broaden" their support of the mission to ensure the "sustainability" of the operation.
A senior U.S. official said this week he did not see any "danger" of the mission losing steam yet but that air crews were beginning to show signs of fatigue.
Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon, whose country is participating in the operation but not in air raids, said no other nations came forward with new contributions.
Sweden, a non-NATO nation taking part in the operation, decided to cut the number of fighter jets enforcing a no-fly zone from eight to five, although it lifted restrictions on what type of surveillance mission they can carry out.
Norway, among only eight NATO members conducting air strikes, has said that it would reduce its role if the mission goes past June.
As the ministers met, a wave of air strikes battered Tripoli again early June 8, piling pressure on Gadhafi, who in an audio broadcast said he was "near" the bombing but vowed never to surrender. The Libyan regime said 31 people were killed on Tuesday but NATO said it had no way to verify the claim.
"Time is working against Gadhafi, who has clearly lost all legitimacy and therefore needs to step down," the ministers said. "There is no future for a regime that has systematically threatened and attacked its own population."
NATO said it stood ready to play a role, if requested and necessary, once Gadhafi steps down but that such an effort should be initiated by the United Nations and the international contact group on Libya.
"The time has come to plan for the day after the conflict," Rasmussen said.
The alliance chief said he did not foresee "a leading role" for NATO and ruled out alliance ground forces in a post-Kadhafi Libya.
"We see the United Nations playing the lead role in the post-Kadhafi, post-conflict scenario," said Rasmussen, who has suggested that NATO could focus on helping reform Libya's defence and security institutions.
U.S. Adm. Samuel Locklear, a senior NATO commander, suggested last week that a small ground force might be necessary after Gadhafi leaves power. The troops, he added, could be provided by the U.N., the European Union or NATO.
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