AP: NATO denies trying to aid Libyan rebels’ advance

Posted on 7 July 2011

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An interesting article from AP today via @electradiffusa.

Adam Schreck (7 July 2001). “NATO denies trying to aid Libyan rebels’ advance”. Associated Press.

NATO denied a Libyan government charge Thursday that the alliance is intentionally using its airstrikes to assist rebel advances, saying it is sticking to its mandate to protect civilians.

[Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister] Kaim said NATO targeted police checkpoints in the Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli ahead of a rebel advance toward the village of Qawalish, which rebel fighters said they seized Wednesday.

A fuel depot in the key eastern oil town of Brega was also destroyed, Kaim said. NATO said it hit equipment used to refuel government military vehicles.

The intensified barrage of airstrikes, particularly in the west of the country, is focused on targeting civilian infrastructure and police checkpoints, he said.

He also alleged that NATO was increasing efforts to provide weapons to rebel fighters.

Kaim also claimed Libyan forces have evidence that Colombian mercenaries funded by the West and its Arab allies have joined the rebel fighters trying to advance toward the capital Tripoli from the western rebel-held city of Misrata.

Some of the Colombian fighters were killed in clashes near Misrata on Wednesday, he said. While Kaim did not provide evidence to substantiate the allegation, he said it would soon be shown to journalists based in Tripoli.

Bracken, the NATO spokesman, said military operations have been running continuously over the past day in the Nafusa mountains southwest of Tripoli.

“We have seen NATO round-the-clock operations resulting in the removal of more than 60 targets” in and around the mountains, Bracken said.

He said another 18 targets, including a tunnel complex used to resupply government troops, were hit in the vicinity of Gharyan, a gateway city to the mountains about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the capital.

A string of victories by relatively small bands of mountain rebels has left them in control of most of the mountain range, bringing them within about 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Tripoli. The advances have energized a rebel campaign that is largely deadlocked on fronts east of the capital.

Remember that rebels were reported to be in Az Zintan, 150 km southwest of Tripoli, almost two months ago.

In Rome, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the country, Libya’s former colonial ruler, is cutting back its participation in NATO’s campaign by removing an aircraft carrier from the region and pulling thousands of troops home.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi is under pressure from his key ally the Northern League, which has opposed the war because of the cost and fears of an influx of migrants. After a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Berlusconi said he had always been against the war but had his “hands tied” once the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians.

As @1D4TW points out, this is great news: Italy is cutting back on their involvement in the Libyan civil war. I wonder how fast they’ll pull out.  Here’s another article from Reuters that has some more details about this: Italy’s Berlusconi exposes NATO rifts over Libya.

Norway will stop participation on 1 August. Next one, please?

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