Lack of resolution over who will take control of military operation tests patience of US
The US has showed signs of exasperation with its European partners amid confusion over who will take control of the Libyan operation from America.
President Barack Obama and his senior commanders are eager to hand over command to Europe in a matter of days, either to a Nato-led command or some Nato-style operation headed by France or Britain.
Nato had been due to announce yesterday that it was taking over, but that had to be abandoned because of a dispute between the 28 member countries. Britain and France also appear to be at odds over which state will take the lead.
Nato members met in Brussels today but have so far failed to resolve an impasse compounded by Turkish objections to the intervention force.
There was a hint of US impatience when the present commander, General Carter Ham, who leads the US command centre for Africa (Africom), based in Stuttgart, was asked by Pentagon reporters when the transfer would take place.
"I would not put a date certain on this. Of, course the first thing that has got to happen is identification of what that organisation is."
Ham, who only took over his command two weeks ago and was almost immediately thrust into action, added:
"We have from the start been planning how we would effect this transition once that follow-on headquarters was established. It is not as simple as handshake and saying:
'You are now in charge'. There are some very complex and technical things that have to occur ... We are ready to begin that process immediately once that headquarters is identified."
Tom Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, indicated Nato would be involved when he told reporters the next phase would be a "move to the coalition and that would be co-ordinated by coalition partners using Nato machinery".
The Pentagon, stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has from the start of the Libyan crisis been reluctant to become involved in a third war.
One Pentagon source said the calls by British and French officials for intervention were all very well but neither state had the military capability to do it. "We can't intervene in every country from Congo to Burma," he said.
In the end, the Pentagon agreed to carry out the initial attack but only on the understanding that others would then take over.
The US would prefer a Nato operation because an American would still be in charge - the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis.
Obama has met little domestic opposition to his involvement in the Libyan operation. There have been isolated expressions about embarking on a third war, especially at a time of spending cuts, but both Republican hawks and Democratic doves are waiting to see whether US involvement is limited.
Some Republicans and Democrats have expressed unhappiness over what they claim is a lack of consultation by Obama before ordering US forces into action again.
The Republican house speaker, John Boehner, said: "The president is the commander-in-chief, but the administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America's role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished."
The operation at present is organised by Ham in Stuttgart, an ironic location given Germany's opposition to the intervention. British, French and other senior officers are at the Africom heaquarters in a liaison role.
US Admiral Samuel Locklear, aboard the flagship Mount Whitney, has tactical command of the Operation Odyssey Dawn joint taskforce.
The command structure is not clear. France, while accepting the US co-ordinating role, maintains its operational headquarters at Mon Verdun, near Lyon, and Britain has its own operational headquarters.
The Italian government regards the present three-way structure - US, Britain and France - as anarchic and is pushing at Nato for a proper command structure.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011