Skip to main content

Q&A: Will coalition infighting stop U.S. hand over to NATO?

Crowds gather around a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed in Libya after suffering mechanical problems.
Crowds gather around a U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed in Libya after suffering mechanical problems.
  • The Arab League and Turkey oppose a NATO-led operation
  • Britain, Italy and France favor a no-fly zone operation with NATO at the helm
  • "No alternative (to NATO) in the absence of the U.S.," David Hartwell, defense analyst

(CNN) -- As military operations in Libya target Moammar Gadhafi's forces, political infighting among the U.N.-backed coalition is growing over who takes command of the mission.

The Arab League -- whose support was crucial for the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution that backs the no-fly zone -- has expressed anxiety at the prospect of NATO taking control of the operations, a U.S. defense official told CNN.

The Arab League has also expressed disquiet about some of the military strategies employed, including the bombing of targets on the ground.

Turkey opposes a NATO-led mission in Libya because the government fears a public backlash.

Fighter jet crash: What happened
Servicemen rescued in Libya after crash
'Human shield' claims 'outrageous'
What's in store for Libya?

The U.S. has said it wants to hand over leadership of the military operation but that negotiations between coalition partners is delaying the transfer of power, according to a defense official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of negotiations.

A NATO-led operation has powerful backers, including the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in a recent speech to British lawmakers in Westminster said he wanted to see the "transfer to a NATO command, using NATO machinery. It's tried and tested."

In addition, there are also differing opinions among coalition countries about the best way of dealing with the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi himself, say analysts.

So, why does the U.S. want to hand over control?

The potential financial burden and the fears of negative public opinion at home, especially if the operation extends over a long period of time and is expensive, say experts.

"From the beginning it was always on the cards that the U.S. would come in early with its (military) specialty and then hand over control. Uncle Sam is quite entitled to step back," says Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at

"Libya is on the fringes of Europe and the reality is that you can't expect the U.S. to pay for Europe's defense. The U.S. is under all kinds of pressure... the U.S. defense budget is sucking $712 billion from the economy every year. It is also facing pressure over its presence in Afghanistan."

Barak Seener, a Middle East research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, says: "The Obama administration may seek to back out of the no-fly zone, placing the onus on Britain and France... domestically there will be increased condemnations for the open-ended costly nature of the no-fly zone."

Why is the Arab League protesting?

Some analysts believe that the Arab League is back-peddling in its opposition to some of the air strikes and NATO leadership of the campaign.

"Amr Moussa (Arab League Secretary-General) was at the meetings in Paris so it is a bit disingenuous of him to say that this is not what was expected," says David Hartwell, senior Middle East and North Africa expert at London-based defense analyst Jane's.

"The Arab League, having approved the U.N. Security Council resolution, then suddenly goes wobbly."

Some Arab nations are hesitant to fly under a NATO banner, the U.S. defense official told CNN. "NATO has the capability to do a rapid switchover," the official said. "The problem is, they have to do everything by consensus."

Seener says: "The Arab League is acting disingenuously by claiming their opposition to the

weekend's military strikes is due to the fact that they oppose the shelling of civilians. The Obama administration's worship of 'consensus' to include the Arab League, is at the expense of protecting the civilians by embracing a narrow definition of Resolution 1973 and in turn keeping in power Gadhafi."

Moussa now publically again backing the no-fly zone and there are moves to get Arab nations to help militarily with the campaign.

Turkey is a member of NATO, so why is it objecting?

"The man in the street in Turkey distrusts operations against Muslim countries, so the (Turkish) government has to listen to the man on the street. If the mission was not led by NATO it would take the Turkey problem out of the equation. I think Turkish government would be quite happy with that," says Heyman.

Is NATO control inevitable?

Some experts believe only NATO could effectively take over from the U.S., while others say that keeping the Arab League and Turkey in the coalition is crucial, so an alternative will have to be found.

"Perhaps one way around it is to use EU (European Union) military staff and EU military headquarters in Brussels. It is very much an air operation so it is not as complicated as when you have many different services involved. I am sure NATO will remain peripheral to the operation," says Heyman.

Other analysts say that a handover to NATO is only days away.

"There definitely needs to be streamlining, it is hard to imagine any other organization taking control, there is really no alternative (to NATO) in the absence of the U.S.," says Hartwell.

Is Gadhafi a target?

No major political leader has yet openly called for the assassination of Gadhafi, although Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama have said they want Gadhafi to go.

There are divisions about the nature of the military operation in Libya because the U.N. Security Council resolution is too ambiguous, say experts.

"I think the fact that there is some flexibility, some ambiguity in the resolution has created the impression that it can mean many things to many people... tensions remain," says Hartwell.

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.