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NATO Mission Creep Not Leading To Libya Ground War: David Cameron

Libya Rebel News

DAVID STRINGER   04/21/11 04:03 PM ET   AP

LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Thursday that NATO isn't edging toward the deployment of ground troops in Libya despite the decision by several European nations to send military staff to assist rebel forces.

Italy, France and Britain are sending experienced combat advisers to help train and organize Libya's opposition forces as they struggle to loosen Moammar Gadhafi's grip on power.

Ministers have insisted the officers won't play any role in offensives against Gadhafi's troops – and have repeatedly said NATO and allies won't overstep boundaries set out in the United Nations resolution authorizing action in Libya.

"We're not allowed, rightly, to have an invading army, or an occupying army," Cameron told BBC Scotland radio. "That's not what we want, that's not what the Libyans want, that's not what the world wants."

Liam Fox, Britain's defense secretary, appeared to raise the prospect of a greater role for international troops by comparing the conflict with international action in Afghanistan.

Fox said after talks in Italy on Wednesday that the situation was "not that different from what's happening in Afghanistan, where we've decided that training up security forces so that the Afghans themselves can look after their security is the best way forward."

Cameron discussed the role of the military advisers that in telephone talks late Wednesday with President Barack Obama, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani.

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Obama approved the use of armed Predator drone aircraft in Libya. The Predator is an example of the unique U.S. military capabilities that Obama is willing to contribute to the campaign, Gates told a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, speaking alongside Gates, said the first Predator mission was scheduled for Thursday but it was scratched because of poor weather. Cartwright said the Predators allow low-level precision attacks on Libyan government forces.

Some British lawmakers have demanded Parliament be recalled from an Easter vacation to discuss the evolving mission.

"It's a sensible thing to do, but it's also a slightly risky political thing to do, because it is the British and French taking a much more direct part it what is now a civil war in Libya," said Michael Clarke, director of London's Royal United Services Institute military think tank.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country was worried about NATO's mission evolving into a ground campaign.

"We find the current events in Libya very alarming," Lavrov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency. "They spell obvious involvement in the conflict on the ground. This is fraught with unpredictable consequences."

In Tripoli, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told reporters that foreign troops would be violently opposed if they appeared in major cities.

"We will make it 10 times as bad as Iraq," Ibrahim said.

British military spokesman Maj. Gen. John Lorimer said NATO jets had fired on targets in both the western city of Misrata, which is under siege by Gadhafi's forces, and the capitol, Tripoli, during sorties flown on Wednesday.

"Given the grievous situation in Misrata, NATO has focused much of its air effort in this area, attacking numerous regime targets that were threatening the civilian population," Lorimer said.

Cameron also raised the prospect Thursday of a new round of international sanctions, including measures to specifically target Gadhafi's ability to generate revenue from oil sales.

Diplomats at the U.N. and European Union are tentatively discussing how to restrict the flow of money from oil sales to the Tripoli regime.

Separately, in Prague, the Czech Republic's defense minister Alexandr Vondra said his country could not contribute more to NATO's military mission over Libya – despite the appeal from allies for extra help.

So far, only six of the NATO's 28 members nations are involved directly in the airstrikes.

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Karin Laub in Tripoli, Jenny Barchfield in Paris and Don Melvin and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Filed by Cara Parks  |