Operation Unified Protector to Finish "by End of October"
NATO HQ, Brussels, Belgium, 24.10.2011
In light of the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on the 20th October and the subsequent end of fighting in Sirte, NATO has given preliminary approval for concluding all aspects of Operation Unified Protector around Libya by the 31st of October.
The decision, due to be finalised by the North Atalantic Council (NAC) in the coming days, "reflects the changing security situation within the country", said NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu. Speaking on the 24th from NATO HQ, she added that "we will continue to monitor the situation and maintain the capacity to respond to protect civilians if needed". Nonetheless, she confirmed that "the NAC has taken a preliminary decision to end the mission on the 31st of October"
Over the weekend, the deputy head of Libya’s National Transitional Council Abdul Hafez Ghoga formally declared that Libya was now a "liberated and free country", amidst empathic celebrations in the capital, Tripoli.
This declaration is an important motivation for a rapid running down of NATO operations, according to Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the missions acting commander based in Naples, Italy. "Libya has been declared liberated - from our perspective then, the objectives of protecting the civilian population given to us under Operation Unified Protector have been met".
Although fighting has now ceased in Sirte and elsewhere, questions have been raised about the ability of the NTC to keep order. Some have even predicted the break out of tribal warfare, which could be equally as dangerous to the civilian population as experienced during the previous uprising.
Bouchard was nonetheless optimistic about the new government’s ability to handle the security vacuum. "Our assessment at this point is that the NTC can provide the adequate levels of protections. Police capacity has greatly approved, and the rebel’s military organisation is becoming more substantial - internal affairs can now be dealt with by the NTC".
When asked about the potential for NATO forces to be drawn into Libya more permanently, as part of so-called "mission creep", Lungescuaffirmed that the political decision to leave was being negotiated very rapidly between Alliance members.
However, she also cautioned that NATO could not withdraw overnight. "A complex operation such as Operation Unified Protector can’t be turned on or off like a switch - it takes some time. But there is no it intention of keeping armed forces in the neighborhood of Libya after this operation, that has been made explicitly clear".