NATO racing to wrap up Libya campaign

Thousands of Libyans in Benghazi celebrate reports of first uprising against Gaddafi in Tripoli, August 21, 2011

From the AP:  With NATO’s bombing of Libya now in its sixth month, a new sense of urgency is gripping the alliance as two critical deadlines loom next month.

After months of combat stalemate, the insurgents have made dramatic gains in recent weeks. An offensive from their beleaguered enclave in the Nafuz Mountains resulted in the capture of the strategic Mediterranean town of Zawiya and put them within striking distance of Moammar Gadhafi’s capital of Tripoli.

The rapid advance offers NATO the chance to bring to a conclusion a campaign that has drawn increasing international criticism and caused serious rifts within the alliance.

NATO officials deny there has been a fundamental shift in tactics in recent days to provide close air support to the advancing rebels, saying they continue to be focused on the protection of civilian populations as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

But they acknowledge that in response to new developments, alliance bombers are pummeling Gadhafi’s troops holding defensive positions around government-held towns and villages, under attack from the advancing rebel forces.

"The persistent and cumulative action of NATO is creating an obvious effect," NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said Sunday. "Pro-Gadhafi forces are gradually losing their capabilities to command, to conduct and to sustain their actions."

Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa defended NATO’s operations, saying its mission is to protect civilians. "Thus all its targets are military targets," La Russa told Sky TG24 TV. . . .

Alliance military planners are racing against a deadline next month, when member states must vote on a second three-month extension of the mission. Approval for an extension may prove problematic, since support for the bombing campaign has eroded among allies who say it detracts resources from NATO’s main mission, the 10-year war in Afghanistan.  (photo: Getty)

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