NATO on Monday officially ended its seven-month military mission in Libya, after its air strikes were seen as crucial in the fall of slain former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The no-fly zone and naval blockade, in effect since March 31, will end at 11:59 pm Libyan time (9:59 pm GMT), according to a resolution drafted last week by the UN Security Council.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the 28-nation alliance had succeeded in their mandate “to protect the civilian population of Libya” and called it “a great success”.
“We avoided a massacre of the Libyan people, we saved an incalculable number of lives, and we led the operation in a very professional, precise manner,” Rasmussen said.
The NATO operation included bombing raids that prevented pro-Gaddafi forces from advancing into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, destroyed Gaddafi’s air force, and took out several thousand military targets, forcing the former leader into hiding.
And though NATO has maintained that it did not know Gaddafi was in the convoy that was hit by one of the alliance’s airstrikes on October 20, the move paved the way for the former leader’s capture.
The campaign caused divisions within the alliance, with only eight of the 28 member states agreeing to participate in the bombing. Detractors, including Russia, China, and the African Union, have accused NATO of using its mandate of protecting Libyans as a pretext to promote regime change.
Unification and disarmament
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised further US assistance to Libya in an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, but noted that the country now has “a very complicated political task ahead of them”.
A big part of that task, according to Mabin, is unifying the country – a process Clinton called a “huge challenge”. “They have to figure out how to reconcile various political and religious beliefs. They have to unify all of the tribes. They have to deal with the rivalry that has existed forever between the west and the east, between Benghazi and Tripoli,” Clinton said. “And they’re going to have to be very clear as to what their agenda is and how it will help meet the needs of all the different groups.”
Another big challenge facing Libya is the disarmament of regional militias. “These various groups are today operating throughout the country under total impunity,” FRANCE 24’s Mabin reported. “These are autonomous groups, many of them rivals and armed for war, and they will need to be integrated into a future Libyan army.”
Libyan interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil had urged the alliance to remain in Libya until the end of the year to protect against potential threats by Gaddafi loyalists; but NATO decided that civilians were safe after Gaddafi’s death, the defeat of his armed forces, and the fall of his stronghold of Sirte on October 20.
Still, Mabin pointed out, in order to help Libya tackle those challenges, specific NATO member countries like France and Britain will continue to play a role in the country.
“There will be observers on the ground, evaluating the military, tactical, and intelligence needs of the new Libyan nation,” Mabin explained.
According to Mabin, France and Britain are also likely to help secure the border Libya shares to the south with Algeria and Niger, where Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam is thought to be at large.