France, Italy send experts to train Libya rebels

A Libyan rebel fighter carries a shoulder-fired rocket launcher on the outskirts of Ajdabiya, Libya, Monday, April 18, 2011. Libya's fighting, which erupted two months ago, has reached a deadlock, with neither side able to gain a decisive advantage and the front line shifting back and forth across a stretch of desert near the eastern city of Ajdabiya.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Italy and France announced they will send military instructors to train the rebels fighting in Libya, a day after the U.K. made a similar announcement.

Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said 10 instructors will be going. He spoke Wednesday after meeting with his British counterpart, Liam Fox. France earlier said it would send military officers to help rebel forces organize and bolster the NATO air campaign that has failed to rout Muammar Qaddafi's military.

President Nicolas Sarkozy also said Wednesday that France will intensify airstrikes at rebels' request.

Both countries said they had no plans to deploy ground troops in Libya, but France said the U.N. Security Council should consider it.

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NATO, leading the U.N.-sanctioned international military operation to protect civilians, now acknowledges that airstrikes alone cannot stop the heavy shelling by Qaddafi's forces.

"There will be a small number of liaison officers at the sides of (Libya's opposition governing council) to carry out liaison missions aimed at organizing the protection of civilians," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting.

He did not say how many officers would go, or where. He insisted that such a move conforms to the U.N. resolution authorizing the international military campaign in Libya.

Britain announced Tuesday it is sending up to 20 military advisers to help Libya's rebel forces. France and Britain led the push for international intervention in Libya.

France was the first country to recognize Libya's opposition, and Libyan opposition leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil is meeting Wednesday in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

However, France's government appeared wary of lobbying for a ground campaign, which would entail more risks for French troops and be more politically delicate.

"We do not envisage deploying ground troops in any way," Baroin said.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the U.N. Security Council should weigh whether to send ground troops. "It's a real question that merits international reflection," he said after the Cabinet meeting.

But Baroin said France would not request another U.N. resolution on the subject.

The Libyan opposition leader has been meeting other world figures and seeking logistical help. Asked whether he would be disappointed by his visit to France, Longuet said, "We cannot please everyone all the time."

Diplomats are already cooperating with Libyan rebel leaders in the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi.

About a dozen British military personnel, including officers with logistical and intelligence expertise, will work with the National Transitional Council, the political wing of the rebel movement — which has been officially recognized by Italy, France and Qatar.

NATO's top military commander, U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis was in Prague for talks with Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg on Wednesday and Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra on Thursday.

Stavridis' visit comes as NATO is seeking to get military contributions from member states that have not participated in the campaign in Libya.

The Czech government previously said it was not planning to contribute troops for the NATO mission in Libya, partly because the country has not been asked to do so.