- NATO previously announced a tentative date of Oct. 31 to end Libya mission
- Panetta says the NTC is suggesting it may want NATO to stick around
- U.S. is considering how to help with medical concerns in Libya
Despite the death of former leader Moammar Gadhafi and the new government's declaration of liberation, NATO may not end its mission in Libya as quickly as expected, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday in Japan.
Last week, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, commander of NATO's military forces, recommended that NATO wrap up its mission in Libya by October 31. NATO ministers gave preliminary approval to that plan.
But Panetta said at a news conference during his visit to Japan Tuesday that the National Transitional Council -- Libya's new government -- wants NATO to stick around.
"I noticed today that there were comments from some of the Libya leadership asking that NATO continue its mission during this interim as they are trying to establish some of their governance," Panetta said.
He said he would leave such decisions up to NATO while the United States looks at its long-term relations with Libya's military.
"What I would do at this point is leave the decision as to future security involvement in the hands of NATO and then beyond that, that will give us a basis on which to determine whether there is an additional role that we can play."
Of more immediate concern, Panetta said, is how to help with the medical crisis that continues even after the end of fighting.
"Obviously our concerns right now are to provide whatever help we can with regards to providing medical relief and medical assistance for the large number of wounded in Libya and there are areas that we are now exploring to try and determine how to best address that issue," the U.S. defense secretary said.
Last week, CNN reported that there were no plans to the East Coast-based hospital ship the USNS Comfort to Libya to provide medical assistance.