France responded to rising criticism Wednesday from eastern Libyan rebels stating that NATO is not doing enough to protect them from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafis forces, as the air campaign nears the three-week mark. The rebels posit that NATO is overly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties, and as a result, it is allowing the Libyan army to regain territory lost during its low point last week.
Indeed, the armys most recent counteroffensive has taken it back through Brega, with Ajdabiya now within its sights once again, while the rebel enclave of Misrata in western Libya continues to get bombarded by loyalist forces on a daily basis. France, which was the biggest proponent of involvement in Libya from the start, would very much like to step up the intensity of the campaign against Gadhafi, but is handicapped by the rules of engagement that NATO is operating under and the inherent limitations of airpower.
Thus, French officials took time Wednesday to explain why it is not Parisfault that NATO jets are not pursuing the enemy more aggressively and how France was trying to adjust the way the military operation is being conducted.
French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe and French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud both said Wednesday that NATOs aversion to killing civilians is the main problem facing the operation. While Juppe was slightly less direct in his criticism of NATO, Paris clearly sees the current situation as unlikely to lead to any real success on the battlefield. More than two weeks of daily airstrikes have taken out almost all of the easy targets, and Gadhafi has shifted his tactics to avoid drawing enemy fire, meaning that a stalemate is fast approaching.
Indeed, Juppe expressed fears that at the current pace, NATO forces risk getting bogged down in a situation that has the ability to linger on for months without producing a clear-cut winner.
NATO officials tried to defend its record in response to the rebel criticism and the French complaints, with one spokesman saying Wednesday that its planes have flown more than 1,000 sorties with at least 400 of them strike sorties in the last six days, and on April 5 alone it flew 155 sorties, with almost 200 planned for Wednesday. This is unlikely to mollify concerns from those who want more intense action, however, about the potential for the Libyan intervention to accomplish nothing but create an uneasy, de facto partition. As no one, not even Paris, wants to put boots on the ground, though, the best solution Jupee could proffer was to broach the topic of NATOs timid approach with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a Wednesday meeting. There, he was expected to push the suggestion for NATO to create a safe sea lane connecting Misrata to Benghazi, so that supplies could be shipped in by unknown naval forces.