NATO said it won’t curtail its five-month air campaign over Libya and will monitor any remaining threats posed by Muammar Qaddafi’s military forces as rebels seeking to topple the 42-year regime swept into Tripoli.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is today deploying a similar number of aircraft to fly missions as it has in past weeks, an alliance official said by phone from Brussels. Still, NATO signaled that the mission some leaders predicted would move swiftly is nearing an end after rebels overcame a months-long stalemate and marched on the capital.
“The Qaddafi regime is clearly crumbling,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in Brussels. “Now is the time for all threats against civilians to stop, as the United Nations Security Council demanded.”
Rebels captured two of Qaddafi’s sons and dispatched soldiers toward the doorstep of the Libyan leader’s presidential compound. An overthrow of the regime would relieve NATO of a mission that has stretched its resources. The alliance has flown 19,877 flight missions over Libya since it took command of the mission on March 31, operating under a United Nations mandate.
Qaddafi clung to power as his military forces dug into their positions against the rebels and a NATO aerial assault struggled to dislodge his regime. That contrasted with optimism at the start, when French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in March that the campaign “will be counted in days and in weeks, not in months.”
“I think NATO is absolutely delighted that they don’t have to continue fighting because they have really struggled to sustain operations,” Mats Berdal, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, said by phone. The alliance is “running out of ammunition.”
Rasmussen called on leaders in June to prepare for a post-Qaddafi Libya and urged the UN to take the lead on overseeing a transition, even though NATO could play a role. Juppe today called for a meeting between the rebels and NATO officials in Paris next week.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy today condemned Qaddafi’s calls for Libyans to resist rebel forces and called for a “spirit of reconciliation.”
The rebels’ advance yesterday was assisted by a NATO assault on targets in Tripoli, including three command-and-control centers, a “military facility,” radars, missile launchers, a tank and armored vehicles, NATO said. The U.K. said its Tornado and Typhoon aircraft struck Libyan military intelligence in the capital yesterday.
“Six months ago this country took the difficult decision to commit our military to support the people of Libya,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters today in London. “I said at the time that this action was necessary, legal and right -- and I still believe that today.”
NATO’s initial efforts were hampered by a lack of coordination with the rebels and improved as communications were upgraded, Berdal said.
The alliance also strained to ensure it had enough firepower to maintain its air campaign. Rasmussen told NATO foreign ministers in April that the alliance needed more attack jets to target ground forces. The U.S. withdrew most of its ground attack planes earlier that month, shouldering much of the work with the French and British air forces.
NATO’s mission was boosted in late April with addition of Italian ground-attack warplanes and armed U.S. Predator drones, which also increased NATO’s surveillance capacity.