30 Mar 2011 DefenseNews AFP
BRUSSELS - NATO on March 30 began to take command of Libyan air bombing operations from a U.S.-led coalition, as warplanes and other assets from several allies came under the military organization's control. "NATO aircraft are flying under NATO command in the Libyan sky," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "This is a phased process, which will be completed as soon as all allies and partners have transferred authority for their assets." The 28-member alliance is gradually replacing the United States at the helm of aerial missions that have been conducted by U.S., French, British and other coalition planes since March 19 to protect civilians from Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces. Britain, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands placed all or part of their military assets under NATO's authority on March 30, an alliance official said on condition of anonymity. NATO's combined air operations centre in Poggio Renatico, northern Italy, transmitted flight plans to units involved in the aerial campaign, the official said. A NATO diplomat has said that the alliance would effectively be in full command of the operations on March 31. NATO has enforced an arms embargo off Libya's coast since last week and also is policing Libya's skies to prevent hostile jets from flying. NATO agreed to take on the broader mission - strikes against forces threatening civilians - on March 27 after overcoming Turkish concerns about the air strikes and French reluctance to hand the lead to the alliance.