TRIPOLI, Libya – Fellow Arab and African nations raised the international pressure Friday on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, with tiny Qatar flying the Arab world’s first combat missions over his country and the African Union imploring him to move toward democratic elections.
The military operation against Gadhafi, which on Friday included airstrikes by British and French jets, remains a U.S.-led operation, though NATO was preparing to assume at least some command and control responsibility within days.
A Libyan government delegation meeting in Ethiopia with African leaders – but not the rebels seeking Gadhafi’s ouster – said he is ready to talk with his opponents and accept political reform, possibly including elections. But the delegation also said Libya is committed to a cease-fire that Gadhafi’s forces have flouted since the government announced it, and blamed the current violence on “extremists” and foreign intervention.
NATO named Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard to lead its Libyan operation, finalizing what it hopes will be a unified command to oversee military action against the North African nation.
Envoys from NATO’s 28 member countries agreed late Thursday to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. With further approval expected Sunday, NATO will take over the responsibility for bombing Gadhafi’s military to protect civilians from attack.
A NATO official said Friday that NATO now hopes to launch both operations simultaneously within a couple of days, avoiding the need for dual commands – NATO for the no-fly zone and the U.S. for the airstrikes.
A Qatari fighter jet flew the country’s first sortie alongside a French jet on Friday to enforce the no-fly zone, the first non-Western military flight in support of the operation.
A Health Ministry official, Khaled Omar, said a total of 114 Libyans have died in the international airstrikes, but he did not provide a breakdown of how many were soldiers or civilians.
U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham said late Thursday that although he was not sure whether civilians died in airstrikes, “we have been very, very precise and discriminate in our targeting.”