Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NATO Extends Mission As Brit Mercs Deploy With Rebels

Updated 4:15 p.m. edt

Another senior Libyan government official defected today to Italy, while there was a rare explosion in the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi.

Libya's oil minister Shukri Ghanem became the latest member of Moammar Gadhafi's cabinet to defect, pledging his loyalty to the rebel Transitional National Council, the Italian news agency reported. The announcement came just days after more than 120 Libyan military, including at least five generals, defected.

In Benghazi, a car bomb exploded outside the hotel where diplomats stay when they meet with TNC officials. No one was hurt, according to the Associated Press.

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NATO announced today it is extending the Libyan campaign by three months, driving the point home with at least a half-dozen air strikes overnight in Tripoli.

"NATO and partners have just decided to extend our mission for Libya for another 90 days. This decision sends a clear message to the Qadhafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya. We will sustain our efforts to fulfil the United Nations mandate. We will keep up the pressure to see it through," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced.

"Our decision also sends a clear message to the people of Libya: NATO, our partners, the whole international community, stand with you. We stand united to make sure that you can shape your own future. And that day is getting closer," Rasmussen said.

A spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi repeated that the Libyan dictator will not step down.

In Britain, meanwhile, officials have been scrambling to explain an Al Jazeera video that captured about a half-dozen Western-looking military advisers mingling with the rebel army. Those boots on the ground belong to mercenary former British SAS officers, anonymous sources have been cited as saying by the UK press.

Britain, France and other Nato countries are supplying the mercs with communications equipment to work as target-spotters for air strikes and coordinators with rebel forces when British Apache and French Tiger attack helicopters are deployed around around Misrata this week, The Guardian of London reported.

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