Washington–NATO has launched 24-hour air surveillance of Libya with AWACS reconnaissance aircraft as the military alliance plans potential future steps to address Libya's violent unrest, the US ambassador to NATO said on Monday.
"The decision was made to indeed increase the surveillance of the NATO AWACS capability, make it 24/7. We'll have a better picture of what is really going on in this part of the world," Ambassador Ivo Daalder told reporters on a conference call.
Daalder said NATO representatives were also discussing other possible moves, including a no-fly zone and helping to enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya, ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers on Thursday.
Britain and France said on Monday they were seeking UN authority to impose a no-fly zone over Libya as Muammar Qadhafi's forces battle anti-government rebels seeking to end his 41-year rule.
"Our sense is that a no-fly zone is one possibility," Daalder said, although he stressed that it remained unclear how much impact this would have on the violence taking place.
"When you really look at what is going on, we have actually seen a decrease in both fighter and overall air activity over the weekend. It really peaked late last week and it is starting to come down," Daalder said. "To date, the overall air activity has not been a deciding factor in the ongoing unrest."
"A no-fly zone, even if it were to be established, isn't really going to impact what is happening there today. That doesn't mean we shouldn't look at it, and we are and we will. But it is not going to be the solution to every problem."
Daalder said the decision to boost flights by NATO AWACS planes–which had been providing air surveillance of Libya for about 10 hours per day as part of normal Mediterranean patrols–would give NATO a better sense of how events are unfolding and could be useful in any future effort to enforce the UN arms embargo.
"What would help is having surveillance capability, that we now will have 24/7. That could at least monitor flights going in and out of the country which is not unimportant for this purpose," Daalder said, although he added that no decision had yet been reached.
Daalder said NATO was also looking at how to support humanitarian relief efforts for Libya, including by sending NATO ships to the area and using the alliance's airlift capability for relief supplies and possible evacuations.
"We would expect and hope that…by the time the defence ministers get there we would agree to move in that direction," Daalder said.
"We should be in a position more or less to at least have a discussion and if necessary make a decision, if there is a consensus, on the issue of a no-fly zone," he said.
"Whether or not there will be such a decision it is too early to tell. I don't think that all governments have made up their minds."