UAE sends warplanes to Libya as NATO takes command

Libyan rebels prepare for battle against government forces on March 24, 2011.
Credit: Aris Messinis

AJDABIYA, Libya — The United Arab Emirates agreed to send fighter planes to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya as NATO took control of the operation and air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces continued for a sixth night.

UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan said 12 warplanes, including six F-16s and six Mirages, would be dispatched to join operations, but only as “an extension” of its “humanitarian operations,” Al Jazeera reported.

After much diplomatic wrangling over who is responsible for enforcing a U.N. resolution on military intervention in Libya, NATO on Thursday finally took command of the no-fly zone, however there was still confusion over the mission’s aims.

The New York Times said leading players including France and the United States agree the action must have a swift resolution, but seem to be at odds over how it will play out.

It said Washington appears to favor an overthrow of Gaddafi from within Libya, with U.S. commanders calling for a Libyan military insurrection. Paris, meanwhile, has already recognized the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate governors – a move that has worried other allies.

“The questions swirling around the operation’s command mirrored the larger strategic divisions over how exactly the coalition will bring it to an end — or even what the end might look like, and whether it might even conceivably include a Libya with Colonel Gaddafi remaining in some capacity,” the Times said.

British and French jets continued to target Gaddafi’s ground forces overnight, with reports of bombs dropped near military bases around Tripoli and air strikes on government forces around the town of Ajdabiya, scene of fierce clashes with the rebels.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said Tornado fighter planes had launched missiles at Libyan armored vehicles that were “threatening the civilian population of Ajdabiya,” the BBC said.

Aided by allied air strikes, the last opposition checkpoint appears to have advanced several miles into territory once controlled by Gaddafi’s troops around Ajdabiya. The makeshift infrastructure helping the rebels along has also improved with Red Crescent ambulances now on hand.

However the battle for this key oil town appeared to be continuing slowly — with small advances matched by small retreats on a daily basis.

Amid the conflict, some of Libya’s past exploits as a rogue state came back to haunt it on Thursday when rebel forces arrested a man suspected of murdering a British police officer outside Tripoli’s embassy in London in 1984.

Campaigners said they hoped Omar Ahmed Sodani would face trial in Britain for the killing of Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher.

Speaking in custody in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Sodani – a prominent figure in the Gaddafi regime – said he had been working in the embassy at the time, but denied involvement, Channel 4 news reported.

In a further development, one of Libya’s neighbors and former allies announced it was joining a U.N. assets freeze on Libya that has already isolated billions of dollars in the United States and Britain.

Uganda’s central bank said it would freeze $375 million in assets and change the management of the Libyan-controlled Tropical Bank, Al Jazeera said.

-- Barry Neild contributed to this report from London

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