NATO to move warships into Mediterranean over Libya unrest

03/10/2011 20:12


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is to move warships to the central Mediterranean to monitor the situation in Libya, but not to take military action there, the alliance's secretary general said Thursday.

NATO already has AWACS radar aircraft monitoring Libyan airspace, but defense ministers at a long-planned meeting on Thursday agreed that the alliance needs to beef up its monitoring of the country's coast.

"It has been decided to increase the presence of NATO maritime assets in the central Mediterranean," Anders Fogh Rasmussen told journalists in Brussels.

The ships will "improve NATO's situational awareness, which is vital in the current circumstances, and they will contribute to our surveillance and monitoring capability, including with regard to the [United Nations] arms embargo," he said.

NATO sources said that the ships involved would be a German frigate and Italian cruiser from a permanent patrol group in the western Mediterranean, together with a mine-sweeping force.

NATO and the European Union began two days of talks on Libya on Thursday focusing on the possibility of a "no-fly" zone after some of the fiercest fighting on the ground in almost three weeks of clashes.

The Pentagon said it was preparing a "full range" of military options for Libya, including a no-fly zone, with the plans to be discussed by NATO defense ministers at a meeting in Brussels.

"NATO is not looking to intervene in Libya, but we have asked our military to conduct prudent planning for all eventualities," Rasmussen told Britain's Sky News.

Italy, whose bases could play a critical role in any military action, has said it will back any decisions taken by NATO, the EU or the United Nations, clearing the way for U.S. naval forces based in Naples to be deployed if needed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear imposing a no-fly zone is a matter for the United Nations and should not be a U.S.-led initiative.


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