Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- NATO is near to concluding its mission in Libya as transition forces stamp out the remaining resistance of Muammar Qaddafi, alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“It’s clear that the end is in sight,” Rasmussen told reporters today after a meeting of defense ministers of the 28- member North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels. Loyalist forces in Libya “are fighting for a lost cause. The threat to civilians is fading away. The recent positive developments in Libya are irreversible,” he said.
NATO is winding down its six-month air campaign over Libya as National Transitional Council forces tighten their control over the country, even as Qaddafi remains at large after the toppling of his 42-year rule. Interim government forces are closing in on loyalists in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast and in Bani Walid, backed by air strikes from NATO warplanes.
Alliance defense ministers discussed the conditions that must be met in Libya before NATO ends the mission. They were joined by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, attending his first meeting with NATO counterparts.
Panetta said three factors would determine when the mission ends: resolving the conflicts in Sirte and Bani Walid, whether Qaddafi retains power over loyalist forces and the NTC’s ability to maintain security. Panetta is due to meet NATO military commanders at the mission’s headquarters in Naples, Italy, later today.
“The decisions there will depend a great deal on the recommendations of our commanders,” Panetta said.
Focus on Economy
The NTC has been working to stabilize the Libyan economy and establish authority over factions that rebelled against Qaddafi. The formation of an interim Cabinet has been postponed several times since NTC forces took the capital Tripoli in late August.
Libya aims to raise crude oil output to more than 500,000 barrels a day by the end of this month, Nuri Berruien, the chairman of state-run National Oil Corp., said this week. He said the country’s goal of restoring crude production to 1.7 million barrels a day within 15 months is a “conservative figure.”
NATO has flown more than 25,000 missions over Libya since it took over the mission on March 30. Yesterday’s strikes included eight targets in Bani Walid, the alliance said today.
“We’re determined to pursue our operation as long as threats persist, but to end it as soon as conditions permit, so we stand ready to terminate the mission when political and military conditions are fulfilled,” Rasmussen said. That time “will come soon.”
Rasmussen reiterated he doesn’t foresee a major NATO role in Libya once the operation is terminated and that it would be for the United Nations to take the lead. NATO would be open to requests for security assistance from Libya’s new government, the alliance chief said, adding that reports of a humanitarian crisis in Sirte and Bani Walid are “a matter of concern.”
Panetta said that “if there’s a request, if there are needs that can be met, all of us in NATO would have to give that serious consideration.”
Rasmussen expressed caution about the new authority’s progress in Libya, citing threats to security.
“I’m not naive,” Rasmussen said. “Of course we might see extremist groups try to take advantage and exploit the situation in Libya. The more important is that a transition to a stable and sustainable democracy takes place as soon as possible.”
--Editors: Andrew Atkinson, Eddie Buckle
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