The change in arrangements took place on Sunday. Ambassadors from the alliance unanimously approved a so-called “no-fly plus” plan that will make NATO responsible for protecting civilians as well as enforcing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo.
NATO has taken command of military operations in Libya starting the transfer from a US-led coalition, but the rules of engagement remain unclear.
The full transfer to NATO forces may take two to three days according to NATO officials. Both president Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said that American command of the military operation in Libya would last only a few days.
The plan does not call for NATO to intervene, it merely vows to protect civilians from attack – which effectively means bombing Gaddafi’s forces if they are threatening to harm the civilian population.
“NATO will implement all aspects of the UN resolution. Nothing more, nothing less,” the diplomats said.
NATO jets on Sunday had already begun enforcing the no-fly zone, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a Secretary General of NATO, announced. For some time now, NATO has also been enforcing a naval blockade of the country.
The bombing campaign is helping rebels in their move towards the capital Tripoli, and the change of command in terms of international operation now seems less important, considering the speed with which the rebels are advancing. Gaddafi’s home town, Sirt, has now fallen into the hands of anti-government fighters with clashes continuing in the western city of Misrata.
In the early days of the discussion about NATO taking full control of operations in Libya, rebel leaders expressed some concern about the pace of actions on the ground slowing down after the change in command.
The UN authorized the operation after Gaddafi launched attacks against anti-government protesters who demanded that he step down after 42 years in power.
“NATO allies have decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the UN Security Council resolution,” Fogh Rasmussen said in his statement.
NATO has significant experience in such operations. They successfully enforced a no-fly zone over Bosnia in the early 1990s and bombed Serbian forces in Kosovo in 1999.