Germany withdraws warships in Mediterranean

Germany withdraws warships in Mediterranean

The German government took the decision after the NATO launched yesterday a naval blockade of Libya to enforce an arms embargo authorised by the United Nations to prevent arms, ammunition and mercenaries reaching the forces loyal to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. A defence ministry spokesman said in Berlin that two frigates and two other ships with around 550 marines on board and about 70 troops participating in the Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) surveillance operations in the Mediterranean region have been withdrawn and placed under the national command.

Germany had joined India and three other nations to abstain in last Thursday's voting on a United Nations Security Council Resolution authorising the use of force to protect the civilian population in Libya because it didn't want to get involved in the conflict there.

Since then, the government reiterated on several occasions that it has no plans to send German troops to the conflict. However, in the wake of yesterday's agreement by the NATO council in Brussels to start implementing the UNSC resolution 1973 calling for an arms embargo on Libya, Germany is concerned that it might be unwillingly drawn into the conflict. There are also growing indications that the NATO will finally take over the command control systems of the operations to enforce a "no-fly" zone over the north African nation.

The initial phase of the operation by the "coalition of the willing" has been under the US command and it brought together the air and naval forces of NATO member-nations such as France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Canada and Denmark as well as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates representing the Arab world.

Since the launching of the operation "Odyssey Dawn" four days ago, NATO partners have been involved in a bitter dispute over who should lead the mission. The US has been pressing its allies to hand over the command and control responsibilities to the NATO, but this was opposed by France and Turkey, who wanted to give alliance only a subordinate role.

France has been keen to take over the leadership of the operation along with Britain, but several other member nations fiercely opposed it. Media reports said last night that US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed during a telephone conversation that NATO "should play a key role in commanding the operation".

President Sarkozy's office said in a statement that the three leaders reached an agreement on using the NATO's command structure to support the coalition. Details of the extend of NATO involvement are yet to be worked out, the reports said.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that NATO warships, helicopters and fighter jets in the Mediterranean region have been given orders to stop ships carrying arms, mercenaries and cut their supplies to Gaddafi's forces. He called upon NATO member-nations to join the operation.