West hits Libya forces, France sees "weeks" of war

The Libyan desert town of Ajdabiya has been under siege for more than a week.

Tripoli: Western warplanes struck Libyan ground forces at a strategically important eastern town, pursuing a nearly week-old campaign that has yet to deliver a crippling blow to Muammar Gaddafi`s tanks and artillery.

In Tripoli, residents reported another air raid just before dawn on Friday, hearing the roar of a warplane, followed by a distant explosion and bursts of anti-aircraft gunfire.

Allied operations to enforce a no-fly zone to stop a violent crackdown against a popular uprising won more Arab support when the United Arab Emirates said it would take part, but France cautioned the conflict would not be quick.

"I doubt that it will be days," Admiral Edouard Guillaud told France Info radio. "I think it will be weeks. I hope it will not take months."

Guillaud said a French plane destroyed an artillery battery belonging to Gaddafi`s forces near the eastern frontline town of Ajdabiyah, 150 km (90 miles) south of Benghazi. Ajdabiyah is strategically important for both sides as it commands the coastal highway to the west.

In London, the Ministry of Defence said British Tornado aircraft had also been active there, firing missiles overnight at Libyan military vehicles threatening civilians.

NATO said after four days of tough negotiations that it would enforce the no-fly zone but stopped short of taking full command of UN-backed military operations to protect civilians from forces loyal to Gaddafi.

NATO officials said a decision was expected on Sunday on whether to broaden the mandate to take full command, including over attacks on ground targets to protect civilian areas under threat from Muammar Gaddafi`s forces.

Differences over the scope the UN resolution gave for military action against Gaddafi`s Army led to days of heated arguments within NATO about its role in the operation.

The United States, embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, is keen to step back and play a supporting role in Libya in order to preserve alliance unity and maintain the support of Muslim countries for the UN-mandated intervention.

Turkey had wanted to be able to use its NATO veto to limit allied operations against Libyan infrastructure and avoid casualties among Muslim civilians from coalition air raids.

Bureau Report

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