BERLIN — NATO nations struggled Thursday to overcome deep differences over the military campaign in Libya, failing to find new ground-attack aircraft for the fight despite French and British calls for more intense airstrikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.
Alliance members agreed that Gadhafi must leave power but insisted the military mission remain focused on its declared goals of enforcing an arms embargo, protecting civilians and forcing the withdrawal of Gadhafi forces from cities they have entered.
The limitations of NATO's aims have been tested by the Libyan rebels' inability to make progress against Gadhafi's stronger and better organized forces, who have camouflaged themselves and hidden in populated areas to avoid Western airstrikes now in their third week. As a result, Britain and France have been calling for more strikes by their NATO allies, particularly the U.S., with its sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems. The U.S. says it sees no need to change what it calls a supporting role in the campaign – even though it has still been flying a third of the missions – and many other NATO nations have rules preventing them from striking Gadhafi's forces except in self-defense.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO needed more aircraft to attack Gadhafi's forces in populated areas but the first day of the meeting led to no commitments of new planes.
"To avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment, so we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions," he said. "I don't have specific pledges or promises from this meeting, but I heard indications that gave me hope."
Meanwhile, Gadhafi's troops unleashed heavy shelling for three hours on the port city of Misrata, which is partly held by rebels who are defending positions against government forces. At least nine people were killed, witnesses said,
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did not say whether the U.S. would send more ground attack craft, but she appealed to the other NATO foreign ministers for unity over the Libyan campaign.
"As our mission continues, maintaining our resolve and unity only grows more important," Clinton said. "Gadhafi is testing our determination."
NATO's 28 members are "sharing the same goal, which is to see the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya," Clinton said. "We must also intensify our political, diplomatic and economic mission to pressure and isolate Gadhafi and bring about his departure."
She said, however, that regime change was outside NATO's military mandate.
In Cairo, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a meeting of regional and international organizations on Libya and set three targets: reaching and implementing a cease-fire, delivering humanitarian aid and starting a dialogue on Libya's future.
Rasmussen said the alliance's foreign ministers had endorsed a statement calling for Gadhafi to leave power, and remain committed to completing the mission there despite the recent divisions.
France, which pushed NATO to launch the Libyan campaign, is now pushing other countries at the meeting to work "on more robust, more efficient, more rapid actions," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in Paris.
The Pentagon noted that Americans have flown 35 percent of all air missions over the last 10 days. Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance is keeping up "a high operational tempo," he added.
One proposal from Italy – Libya's former colonial ruler – calls for the western powers to provide defensive weapons to rebels. Clinton didn't comment on that plan but said the world must "deepen our engagement with and increase our support for" the Libyan opposition.
"In reality, we have the same objective – this objective is to allow the Libyan people to enjoy democratic freedom," said France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, adding "there will not be a military solution to the problem, there can only be a political solution."
"There is no future in Libya with Gadhafi," Juppe added.
Juppe was guarded when asked whether France believes Libyan rebels should be supplied with arms.
"France is not in this frame of mind," he replied.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin agrees with France and others that "Libya can only have a good future if this dictator goes."
Thursday's NATO meeting also was to address efforts to hand over security responsibility in Afghanistan to local forces.
The European Union rewarded the most senior official to defect from Gadhafi's regime by unfreezing his assets and lifting a visa ban that had barred him from traveling in any of the 27 EU countries.
The measure lifting sanctions against former Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa – agreed to Tuesday but made public Thursday – was at least in part an attempt to lure other senior figures into deserting Gadhafi defectors, an EU official said.
David Rising in Berlin and Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.