NATO names October 31 as early end date for Libyan mission

Story highlights

  • "We did what we said we would do," NATO chief says
  • A decision on a definitive end date will be made next week
  • NATO confirms a strike by its aircraft likely contributed to Gadhafi's capture
  • Officials: Coalition forces' seven-month mission is drawing to an end
NATO will begin to scale back operations in Libya following Moammar Gadhafi's death, with the preliminary end date of October 31, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.
A formal decision on a definitive end date will be made early next week.
"We did what we said we would do and now is the time for the Libyan people to take their destiny into their own hands," Rasmussen said after meeting with officials in Brussels to determine what should happen next.
NATO forces will be on standby until the end of the month to continue to provide assistance to civilians if needed, he said, adding that, if requested by the new Libyan leadership, the international body could also help in the transition with regards to reforms to the country's defense and security sectors.
Although Gadhafi was eventually captured by Libyan fighters and apparently killed by crossfire, the seven-month-long western intervention through NATO was a key factor in his downfall.
One question is sure to come up: Has the Libya operation presented a model for future NATO missions or has it revealed the organization's limitations in terms of resources and political will?
Within days of the U.N. Security Council's authorization of Resolution 1973, with the mandate of protecting Libya's civilian population, NATO forces were engaged in action by air and sea.
The operation relied on three main prongs -- implementing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and taking action to protect civilians and civilian areas under threat of attack.
Since March 31, some 9,634 strike sorties, where targets are identified or hit, are among 26,000 sorties to have been conducted, NATO said Friday.
Among the targets were Gadhafi's military command centers, armored vehicles, munitions dumps and underground bunkers.
NATO confirmed on Friday that 11 pro-Gadhafi military vehicles were hit by NATO aircraft outside his stronghold of Sirte Thursday morning, after they were seen leaving the city at high speed carrying large amounts of arms and ammunition.
NATO did not know at the time of the strike that Gadhafi was in the convoy, which was targeted only because of the threat it posed to civilians, the NATO statement said -- but it later learned that Gadhafi "was in the convoy and the strike likely contributed to his capture."
Gadhafi died soon after he was seized by Libyan fighters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that Gadhafi's death is proof of the success of the NATO alliance and the mission in Libya.
"This was not an easy effort, it involved a great deal of cooperation, a great deal of partnership. But the fact was that working together, they accomplished this mission that Gadhafi is no longer. And finally Libya belongs to the Libyan people," Panetta said while flying to Asia for a series of meetings with U.S. allies in the region.
Rasmussen similarly hailed the alliance's Libya mission as a "remarkable success," saying the operation "prevented a massacre and saved countless lives."
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told CNN's "State of the Union" program, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday, that the operation had shown that the United States did not have to carry the weight of international military interventions alone.
The point, he said, "is that the NATO alliance worked like it was designed to do, burden-sharing. In total, it cost us $2 billion, no American lives lost."
And unlike other NATO operations, such as Afghanistan, where the United States has carried "the primary burden," Biden said, "this was really burden-sharing."
Pentagon spokesman George Little put the price tag for U.S. Defense Department operations in Libya as of September 30 at $1.1 billion. This included daily military operations, munitions, the drawdown of supplies and humanitarian assistance.
Brit