NATO commander expected to recommend ending Libya airstrikes

Airstrikes

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON — Adm. James Stavrides, NATO's top commander, will probably recommend in the next day or so a halt to the bombing campaign over Libya, now that the African nation's former leader, Moammar Kadafi, apparently is dead and his hometown has fallen, a senior alliance officer said Thursday.

The decision to end air operations will be formally made by the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s civilian decision-making body.

“We are convinced that Surt is now controlled by the rebels,” said the officer, who was not authorized to speak on the matter and thus requested anonymity.

PHOTOS: Moammar Kadafi | 1942 - 2011

At a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels earlier this month, officials decided against halting air operations. But they stressed that such a move would be made soon after Surt, Kadafi’s hometown, was taken by forces loyal to Libya's transitional government.

It is possible that NATO would announce only a suspension of airstrikes and a period of monitoring of the situation in Libya, the official said. But there is growing sentiment within the alliance for ending the six-month campaign, including the "no-fly" zone and the arms embargo enforced by naval vessels, which would make a resumption of the campaign unlikely once NATO halts the airstrikes.

At the Brussels meetings, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that in addition to monitoring the fall of Surt, the alliance would also assess the Transitional National Council's ability to maintain public order across Libya, a task that could take a while with multiple rebels groups still operating largely on their own.

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— David S. Cloud

Photo: Moammar Kadafi loyalists stand next to a NATO plane shot down during a strike that destroyed a military base on Sept. 7. An end to NATO airstrikes could be near. Credit:  Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

 
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