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NATO Secretary-General: Will be no alliance troops on ground in post-conflict Libya

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BRUSSELS - NATO's top official said Wednesday the alliance won't put troops on the ground in Libya to keep order once the civil war ends and it will be up to the United Nations to help the north African country toward its future once Gadhafi is no longer at its helm.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke after meeting with defence ministers from the 28 members of the North Atlantic military alliance, and after NATO war planes pounded the Libyan capital, Tripoli, with the heaviest bombardment of the campaign.

"For Gadhafi, it is no longer a question of if he goes but when he goes," he said. "It may take weeks, but it could happen tomorrow and when he goes the international community has to be ready."

But when Gadhafi goes, Rasmussen said, it would be up to the United Nations and not NATO to usher Libya peacefully toward democracy.

"We do not see a lead role for NATO in Libya once this crisis is over," he said. "We see the United Nations playing a lead role in the post-Gadhafi, post-conflict scenario."

Fogh Rasmussen appeared to make little progress in his push to have more NATO countries contribute to the military effort.

Instead of announcing new military contributions, Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that "NATO nations and partners stressed their continuing commitment to our operation, including by providing the necessary capabilities to continue and conclude the operation."

Alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero, however, said the meeting was positive and a number of nations "indicated they would look into increasing their contribution." She declined to elaborate.

Britain, France and the United States are doing much of the heavy lifting in the campaign so far. British and French attack helicopters joined the campaign at the weekend in an escalation of NATO's military might in the skies over Libya while U.S. planes are targeting Libyan radar installations and providing about 70 per cent of the mid-air refuelling .

A joint statement said the alliance would "welcome additional contributions to our common efforts."

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said before the meeting he wanted to see "increased urgency in some quarters" for the Libya campaign.

"The United Kingdom has been very forward-leading, very clear that we want to see the Libyan people safe from the excesses of the Gadhafi regime," Fox said. "We will want to push that point today."

One of the alliance's most powerful members, Germany, is refusing to take part in the mission and that stance did not shift Wednesday.

"We will not change our position concerning the military action. We will not participate," said German Secretary of State Christian Schmidt.

NATO said it flew 66 "strike sorties" Tuesday and hit five command and control facilities in Tripoli, among other targets.

The intensified air strikes raise the question of whether NATO is adhering only to its U.N. mandate to protect civilians from attack by Gadhafi's forces. Fogh Rasmussen insisted that was still the case.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken at NATO's Libya operations headquarters in Naples told The Associated Press there has been "increased tempo over recent days over Tripoli" as the alliance seeks to further weaken Gadhafi's military.

But he stressed that "Gadhafi as an individual has not been a target and won't be a target."

An alliance official insisted that striking at Libyan military and intelligence command and control centres like those targeted in Tripoli has "a direct correlation" with protecting civilians because it means Gadhafi's forces can no longer receive orders from commanders.

The strikes "cut off and confuse" forces on the ground, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the mission.

Sweden's government announced Wednesday that it will extend the mission of Swedish jets taking part in Libya reconnaissance missions by three months after its current mandate expires on June 22.

Under the plan, five of the eight Swedish jets currently taking part in the operation will continue to carry out reconnaissance missions over Libya.

A defiant Gadhafi, meanwhile, vowed Tuesday to fight to the death.

"We will not surrender: we only have one choice — to the end! Death, victory, it does not matter, we are not surrendering!" Gadhafi said on state television.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did not speak to reporters Wednesday at the last NATO gathering he will attend before retiring at the end of the month.

Gates arrived in Brussels after a farewell visit to American troops in Afghanistan. The 10-year war with Taliban insurgents is expected to dominate NATO discussions Thursday.

____

Associated Press reporter Don Melvin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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