Rebels In Libya Appeal For More International Help

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Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi are fighting for control of Misrata. The country's third-largest city is home to an important port that rebel forces are struggling to hold onto. Rebels say they need more help from the international community to push back Gadhafi's forces. But the role of foreign nations remains limited to airstrikes. Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, talks to Mary Louise Kelly about the continuing conflict.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Meanwhile, in another key Libyan city, Misrata, the siege continues. There are more reports today of rocket fire and shelling. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of people there are believed to have been killed. For now, the city's Mediterranean port is the only way to get humanitarian supplies in, and for residents, the only way out. Medical workers and other officials are warning of a possible massacre if Gadhafi's forces gain control of Misrata. And they're calling on NATO to do more to help.

Well, the U.S. ambassador to NATO is Ivo Daalder. We reached him in Brussels, and I asked him: Is NATO prepared to do more?

Ambassador IVO DAALDER (United States Ambassador to NATO): NATO is - within the means that it has available - which is air power, doing what it can. It is trying to target and is targeting tanks and artillery pieces, ammunition bunkers and support capabilities for the siege of Misrata. The biggest problem, though, is that some of the forces are in the city. And when you are flying over it at 10,000 to 15,000 feet, it's kind of hard to make sure that you only bomb the Libyan forces and not affect civilian casualties.

KELLY: Is there more, though, that NATO planes could be doing to protect that port which is proving so crucial?

Amb. DAALDER: Well, the port is opened. Ships are coming in and out. If there were an attack on the port from a tank far away or a - rocket attacks or something, we could take that out by air. Ultimately, air power is a blunt instrument. We are, indeed, focused on making sure that those forces that we can target we do target and we destroy in order to minimize the damage they can do to civilians.

KELLY: Ambassador Daalder, I realize you're on the diplomatic side, not in the military chain of command, but we are hearing reports that NATO is running short of the precision bombs it needs to continue this campaign, also that more planes are needed. In your view, does NATO have adequate weaponry to carry out the task it's trying to do?

Amb. DAALDER: What I can say is we had a discussion about these kinds of issues late last week when foreign ministers met in Berlin. And at the time, SACEUR, the supreme allied commander who is in charge of this operation, made clear that if we are to sustain this operation, it is necessary that we have additional military capability brought to the effort. We are looking to our European allies. We're looking to the Arab partners who are participating in this operation to see whether they might be able to contribute that extra effort.

KELLY: And is there any chance that the U.S. might step in and provide those extra planes and equipment?

Amb. DAALDER: Well, what the United States has said is if SACEUR, the supreme commander, believes that the capabilities that the United States has are required in order to fulfill the mission, he can ask us. And subject to the approval of the Secretary of Defense, we would be able to provide it.

The United States is focused on providing the unique capability that, frankly, only we can provide: aerial refueling, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance. About 25 percent of all the airplanes in the air are American airplanes right now, but it's providing between 75 and 100 percent of these critical capabilities.

KELLY: A month ago, before the NATO no-fly zone was in place, you voiced some caution about it. You were quoted as saying that a no-fly zone would not be effective, for example, against the kind of helicopter attacks that the Gadhafi regime was carrying out. What do you think now? Is this strategy working?

Amb. DAALDER: Well, I didn't think a no-fly zone could work, and I still believe that was the case. We also needed to use airpower to protect civilians. That's why Benghazi was saved. That is why we are now slowly, but surely eroding the capacity of the Gadhafi regime.

KELLY: Slowly, but surely eroding their capacity, you say, but how do you get past what appears to be emerging as a stalemate, with NATO carrying out airstrikes, but unable to, for example, help the civilians in Misrata who are desperately calling for more international attention?

Amb. DAALDER: Well, the opposition will get stronger over time, and we'll be able to take advantage of the fact that NATO airpower is limiting the capacity of Gadhafi to sustain his fight. It will either end because Gadhafi has decided that he has had enough, or more likely that the people around him have decided that they don't want to continue to fight. And the people of Libya and those who are now supporting the regime and are upholding it will have to ask the question: Is this how they want to continue, or are they better off finding an alternative path?

KELLY: Ambassador Daalder, thanks very much.

Amb. DAALDER: That's my pleasure.

KELLY: Ivo Daalder is the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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