NATO forces operating in Libya may at any time send troops in to arrest Muammar Gaddafi without breaching the UN Security Council's resolution, former UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Force Commander Major-General Alain Pellegrini said on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Great Britain, followed by France and Italy on Wednesday, announced they were sending military consultants to Benghazi in eastern Libya to give support to the rebels. Paris, however, has ruled out sending military ground forces into Libya and will not seek permission from the UN Security Council to do that.
"If a decision on future [military ground] measures is actually made, then, in my opinion, the wording of [a ground force invasion] can be eluded," French Gen. Pellegrini told RIA Novosti in an interview, adding: "If we are talking about ground troops being sent into Libya, and they hold a short-term operation [to remove Gaddafi] in Tripoli and then quickly leave, then that is not considered 'occupying forces.'"
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya on March 17, paving the way for a military operation against Gaddafi which began two days later. The command of the operation was shifted from a U.S.-led international coalition to NATO in late March.
However, the European Union is still lacking a coordinated strategy on how to protect the civilian population in Libya by “all necessary means,” as stated in the UN resolution.
Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal faction in the European Parliament, urged on Wednesday the four EU members of the UN Security Council to “seek clarification or enlargement of the mandate of UNSC resolution 1973.”
“We now call on the EU’s High Representative for external action to take the initiative to define a common policy and action by the UK, France, Germany and Portugal on the United Nations Security Council with respect to reinforcing the mandate to protect civilian life,” Verhofstadt said in a press release.
Despite dozens of sorties carried out by NATO aircraft against Gaddafi's forces, the government troops maintain their combat capability and continue to pound poorly-equipped rebels with heavy artillery and rocket fire.
The Libyan National Transitional Council's foreign relations department head, Ali al-Assaoui, said earlier that the rebels need military aid and weapons and did not rule out that "Arab, Muslim, and friendly forces on Libyan soil" may be needed to rout out Gaddafi.
Gen. Pellegrini said that Gaddafi, the leader of an Arab country, should step down himself so that NATO does not spoil its relations with other Arab countries.
"He needs to be forced to step down through talks and contacts. If ground operations begin in Tripoli, then members of the Arab League will definitely say there is aggression from the coalition forces or from NATO members," Gen. Pellegrini said.
He said that should a military decision be used to solve the problem, the danger of the country splitting in two will prevail; therefore, allied forces need to know what they are getting into.
"In order to begin an operation, you need to know where to go and who to place in power. Do we start [a military operation] for those who represent only part of the population, or do we do it for the entire country?" he said.
PARIS, April 21 (RIA Novosti)