REPORTING FROM LONDON –- Declaring mission accomplished, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that the alliance would begin winding down its aerial campaign over Libya with the aim of ending the operation by the end of the month.
“We did what we said we would do, and now is the time for the Libyan people to take their destiny fully into their own hands,” Rasmussen said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Ambassadors from the alliance’s 28 member states gave preliminary approval to wrapping up Operation Unified Protector by Oct. 31, seven months after it was launched to carry out a United Nations mandate to protect civilians from forces loyal to the late Moammar Kadafi.
Until that date, Rasmussen said, NATO would continue to monitor the situation in Libya and retain the capacity to respond to any residual threats posed by armed supporters of the former Libyan leader, who died Thursday in circumstances that remain mysterious.
Kadafi’s capture and death came sometime after his convoy was attacked by NATO warplanes outside his hometown of Surt. Rasmussen repeated NATO’s assertion that it had not set out to assassinate Kadafi and did not know of his presence in the column of armed vehicles, which were bombed because they constituted a potential threat to civilians.
“Such convoys were legitimate military targets,” he said.
The decision to end the operation Oct. 31 is expected to be formally ratified by NATO nations next week.
After that date, no NATO troops or materiel will remain "in the neighborhood of Libya," Rasmussen said. "It's our intention to close the operation. It will be a clear-cut termination."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Friday. Credit: Virginia Mayo / Associated Press