WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2011 — NATO’s decision to extend the alliance’s mission in Libya shows its work there is not yet done, a NATO spokeswoman said today.
NATO’s North Atlantic Council extended Operation Unified Protector by 90 days during a meeting in New York last week that coincided with a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.
“In New York, the message was clear: a new day is dawning for Libya, and the international community is rallying around the new Libya,” Oana Lungescu told reporters during a briefing at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
Lungescu reiterated NATO’s commitment to the Libyan people.
“Our job under the mandate of the United Nations and in support of the Libyan people is not yet done,” she said. “The situation remains fluid. And while threats persist, NATO will continue to protect civilians together with our partners, under the mandate confirmed by the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution 2009.”
Lungescu also reiterated NATO’s intention to continue its work while maintaining oversight of when to end its mission. “The mission will continue as long as it is necessary, but end as soon as possible,” she said. “We also decided to keep the situation under regular review, and that means that the North Atlantic Council can terminate the operation at any time and as soon as possible, in coordination with the United Nations and the will and aspirations of the Libyan people.”
Col. Roland Lavoie of the Canadian air force, military spokesman for Operation Unified Protector, discussed operations against remaining forces in the country loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.
“Recent developments in Surt and Bani Walid have been our main area of attention over the last few days,” he said. “Indeed, it’s clear that remaining Gadhafi forces refuse to recognize their defeat and that the former regime has lost both legitimacy and public support.
“As a last resort,” he continued, “they are hiding in urban areas, from where they attempt to control the surrounding population and use civilians as shields against attempts [by forces of Libya’s transitional government] to dislodge them.”
Lavoie cited signs of the “worsening situation” in Surt and Bani Walid. “Availability of drinking water, food resupply, electricity, medicine and fuel is severely impeded, which puts an enormous pressure on the civilian population,” he said.
“Numerous checkpoints and surrounding sniper positions are being used to prevent families from moving to safer locations,” Lavoie added, “and Gadhafi forces, mercenaries and Gadhafi supporters roam the streets taking hostages and conducting executions.”
Lavoie also said Gadhafi forces are turning away neutral humanitarian aid, “which is appalling and senseless, as this gives Gadhafi forces no military advantage at all.”
The military spokesman said National Transitional Council forces have seen some success in recent days.
“On a more positive note, the NTC forces have opened a line of communication in the northwest coastal area last weekend, which has allowed thousands to escape from that route,” he said. “This life-saving operation resulted in NTC casualties, but allowed many to escape a very tough, if not to say dire, situation.”
Lavoie also said transitional government forces have gained control of Libya’s remaining stockpile of chemical and nuclear-related agents.
“We are confident that allies in international organizations that are in contact with the NTC are working to ensure that Libya’s governing authorities can take full control of any proliferation sensitive material that is left and that they start planning for their safe disposal,” he said.
Lavoie stressed that NATO will continue to monitor ground conditions and safeguard civilians as mandated by the Security Council resolution.
“Operation Unified Protector is not over yet,” he said. “We are committed to pursuing it to protect the population of Libya for as long as necessary, but not any longer.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)