Norway may "red card" plans for Libya, ground F-16s

Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:08pm GMT

* Norway has six F-16 fighter jets ready for Libya missions

* Defence minister says if risks too high, will ground jets

OSLO, March 23 (Reuters) - Norway may ground its six F-16 fighter jets due to take part in U.S.-led sorties over Libya if it deems their missions too dangerous for civilians in the North African state, the defence minister said on Wednesday.

Norway, a NATO member, was one of the first Western states last week to signal willingness to intervene militarily in Libya to enforce a U.N. resolution meant to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by forces loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But Oslo has cooled its rhetoric as the West has squabbled over the mission's command structure, Arab states have sent unclear signals of support and Gaddafi has blamed the loss of civilian lives on Western bombs.

"If Norway can't take part in the operational plans that emerge -- if the risk of civilian lives being lost is too great, for example -- Norway can take out the 'red card' and keep its fighters from participating," Defence Minister Grete Faremo told reporters after she briefed parliament about Libya.

The six Norwegian F-16s have arrived at their base in Crete, where they are ready to operate under U.S. command.

(Reporting by Wojciech Moskwa; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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