'End is in sight' for Libya mission, NATO says


McClatchy Newspapers

BRUSSELS — NATO defense ministers said Thursday that the alliance would end its six-month mission in Libya once deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi can no longer mount attacks against civilians — a point that they suggested was imminent even though Gadhafi has evaded capture.

"It is clear the end is in sight," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday. "The threat to civilians is fading away."

During a two-day meeting at NATO headquarters here, defense ministers tried to set parameters for ending the mission, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that the allies had reached a "pretty clear consensus" on what would constitute the right time to stand down.

Four key areas of tension needed to be resolved, Panetta said: Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, one of his last remaining strongholds, must be pacified; Gadhafi loyalists must no longer be able to attack civilians; Gadhafi's military capabilities must be totally destroyed; and the transitional government must be able to secure the country.

If the balance of factors shows that Gadhafi is no longer a threat, the mission would end, said U.S. Adm. James Stravitis, NATO's supreme allied commander. The decision will not hinge on a "series of precise metrics," he said.

The transitional government is trying to consolidate its grip on the country even as Gadhafi and his son and former heir apparent, Saif al Islam, remain at large. On Thursday, Gadhafi appeared to resurface in an audio recording broadcast on a Syrian-based television channel, urging Libyans to "be courageous, rise up, go out in the streets" to oppose the new government.

It wasn't possible to verify whether the recording truly was Gadhafi, who transitional government officials believe is on the run in Libya's vast southern desert, under the protection of tribal groups.

While some Libyans — particularly tribes loyal to Gadhafi and former members of his government — have expressed worry that transitional government forces would target them for reprisal attacks, NATO leaders said that the threat to civilians, as they defined it, came only from pro-Gadhafi forces.

It was unclear whether the new Libyan leadership would have a say in the duration of the NATO mission. Some Libyans fear that ending the mission could weaken the transitional government as it struggles to stabilize the state. So far the ruling National Transitional Council has been plagued by missteps, including slow-moving reform measures, trigger-happy fighters and indecision about how Libya should be governed after the interim period.

Libya dominated the two-day session, with NATO officials saying that they were right to intervene when they did but lacked sufficient military intelligence, unmanned drone aircraft, aerial tankers and ammunition. The United States buttressed the effort with additional equipment, but after ceding control to NATO forces the mission appeared to drag, earning criticism from many Libyans who sought Gadhafi's immediate departure.

The mission, spurred by a seemingly imminent invasion by Gadhafi forces of the rebel capital of Benghazi, included nearly 25,000 air sorties in which NATO planes struck more than 5,000 targets.

But Libyans have also criticized the NATO mission for killing civilians, and NATO officials have said that they don't have any plans to investigate reports of civilian casualties in its air strikes.

The NATO-backed rebels seized the capital, Tripoli, in August. Since then the transitional council has struggled to gain control of a few remaining bastions of Gadhafi support, including Sirte, where international aid groups and fleeing residents report that the humanitarian situation is rapidly worsening.


NATO chief says Libya mission doesn't hinge on Gadhafi's capture

Libyan civilian toll from NATO bombings still unknown

Family tells of terror from armed Gadhafi loyalists in Sirte

For more international news visit McClatchy's World page.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

More children under five survive

    Death rate for children under 5 has plunged, UN reports

    In a break from the recent slate of doom-and-gloom reports of catastrophes, wars and destruction, a United Nations report released Tuesday says the number of children under 5 who die each year fell by 49 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 12.7 million to 6.3 million, saving 17,000 lives every day.

  • FARC rebel ambush kills 7 police in Colombia

    Colombia's police chief says leftist rebels have killed seven police officers and injured five in an ambush in the country's northwest.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the first in a series of high-profile Capitol Hill hearings that will measure the president's ability to rally congressional support for President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, in Washington, Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    War on Islamic State will be long, difficult, top defense officials tell Senate

    In their first public briefing since President Barack Obama laid out his new strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the nation’s two top defense officials on Tuesday provided few details of their plans and no guarantees of success.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category