REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said Friday it will end its controversial Libya operations as of Monday, concluding a momentous seven-month air and sea campaign that played a central role in the ouster of Moammar Kadafi after more than four decades in power.
“We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
The decision had been expected and comes a day after the U.N. Security Council voted to end the mandate that was the legal basis for foreign intervention in Libya. Last week, NATO leaders said the mission was close to completion.
But Libya’s new rulers asked for an extension of air patrols, citing potential attacks by die-hard Kadafi loyalists. The U.N. decision ruled out further NATO action.
Since March 31, when NATO assumed control of the operation, alliance warplanes have flown more than 26,000 sorties over the North African nation, bombing thousands of targets.
The aerial onslaught was decisive in enabling the rebels to oust Kadafi -- and also played a role in the mercurial leader’s ultimate fate.
Last week, a NATO airstrike halted a convoy of vehicles transporting Kadafi and supporters as the group tried to flee the besieged city of Surt. Kadafi was captured and killed in circumstances that suggest an execution, though Libyan officials say he was killed in crossfire.
Besides the bombing runs, the NATO campaign had two other components: enforcing an embargo on arms shipments to Kadafi forces and securing a "no-fly" zone in Libyan airspace.
Leaders of the 28-nation alliance, which includes the United States, have labeled the Libya mission a resounding success. But critics have said that NATO exceeded its mandate to protect Libyan civilians and became the rebel air force in a war that eventually left more than 30,000 dead, including many civilians.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Smoke rises into the sky after a NATO airstrike in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, in June. Credit: EPA