|European nations sending military officers say they will not train or arm rebel fighters in Libya [Reuters]|
France and Italy are joining Britain in sending military officers to Libya to help advise rebels on technical, logistical and organisational issues.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, offered assistance to Abdel Jalil, the leader of the Libyan Transitional National Council, when they met in Paris on Wednesday.
“We are going to help you,” Sarkozy told him.
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Jalil said he invited Sarkozy to visit Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in Libya’s east.
“I think that would be very important for the revolution’s morale,” Jalil said after the meeting.
Sarkozy’s office said it had “taken note” of the invitation.
A French foreign ministry spokesperson said a small number of liaison officers would be sent out to Benghazi along with a special envoy, while Italy said it was ready to send around 10 officers – “the same number of military staff as Britain”.
Ignazio La Russa, Italy’s defence minister, said that stronger intervention under the UN resolution, which does not permit ground troops, may be needed in Libya.
William Hague, Britain’s foreign minister, announced on Tuesday that it would be sending a team to Libya to help rebels with “military organisational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance”.
He insisted that the decision was “fully within the terms” of the UN Security Council resolution that authorised a no-fly zone over the north African nation, and that the team would not train or arm rebel forces.
But Khaled Kaim, Libya’s deputy foreign minister, said the attempt would be futile.
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“This is an impossible mission. To organise who? They [the rebels] are different groups. There is no leader. They are not well-organised, and I am sure it will be a failure,” he said.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the US president, is still opposed to sending US ground troops to Libya, the White House said on Wednesday.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, told journalists that Obama would support moves by the French and British to dispatch military advisors to help rebelsfighting Libyan leader Gaddafi.
“The president obviously is aware of this decision and
supports it, and hopes and believes it will help the
“But it does not at all change the president’s policy on no ‘boots on the ground’ for American troops,” Carney said.
French: no troops on the ground
Francois Baroin, a French government spokesman, said Sarkozy’s administration was “not envisaging troops on the ground, in any shape or form” and that France was not seeking new UN Security Council action that would give the allies a broader mandate to intervene in Libya.
“We are not taking the initiative to seek a new Security Council resolution. The French position is stable and unchanged on this problem of applying Resolution 1973,” he said.
That resolution permitted the use of force to protect Libyan civilians, but explicitly forbade a “foreign occupation force” – a phrase which some states interpret as banning any ground intervention at all.
Libyan rebels would not object to the presence of foreign ground forces to protect a safe haven for
civilians, a senior rebel spokesman said on Wednesday.
“Protecting civilians requires having safe passages to deliver humanitarian supplies,” Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, the National Council spokesman, told a news conference in Benghazi.
However, Sarkozy promised Jalil that France would intensify air strikes on the army of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, but did not elaborate.
“We are indeed going to intensify the attacks and respond to this request from the national transition council,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement
Forces fighting Gaddafi have urged the West to ramp up its military campaign to try and break a deadlock in the conflict and halt attacks on the besieged city of Misrata, where hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks.
International forces have been carrying out air strikes on forces loyal to Gaddafi since March 19, in a mission headed by NATO since March 31.
The NATO-led coalition is enforcing a UN mandated no-fly zone in Libya, which authorises “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from attack by Gaddafi’s forces.
It is also policing an arms embargo and has targeted Gaddafi’s military infrastructure.
The rebels have been trying since mid-February to end Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule but have struggled against his more experienced and better equipped forces.