NATO, Partners Agree to End Libya Mission

WASHINGTON — The NATO oper­a­tion in Libya will end Oct. 31, Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen said today.

The 28 alliance nations and five oper­a­tion part­ners met at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

“We have met today with our oper­a­tion part­ners to assess the sit­u­a­tion in Libya,” Ras­mussen said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence. “We agreed that our oper­a­tions are very close to com­ple­tion, and we have tak­en a pre­lim­i­nary deci­sion to end Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor on Oct. 31.”

The final deci­sion will be made ear­ly next week, the sec­re­tary gen­er­al said. In the mean­time, he added, he will con­sult close­ly with the Unit­ed Nations and the Libyan Nation­al Tran­si­tion­al Coun­cil in chart­ing the way ahead.

NATO will wind down the oper­a­tion through Oct. 31. Until then, the alliance will mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion in Libya and retain the abil­i­ty to respond to threats to civil­ians if need­ed.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved togeth­er with our part­ners, includ­ing many from the region,” Ras­mussen said. “Our mil­i­tary forces pre­vent­ed a mas­sacre and saved count­less lives. We cre­at­ed the con­di­tions for the peo­ple of Libya to deter­mine their own future. Their courage and deter­mi­na­tion in the cause of free­dom is an inspi­ra­tion to the world.”

NATO launched the oper­a­tion fol­low­ing pas­sage of Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1973. The res­o­lu­tion called for mem­ber states to pro­tect the peo­ple of Libya from their own gov­ern­ment, as forces loy­al to then-dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi were threat­en­ing the pop­u­la­tion of Beng­hazi, Libya’s sec­ond-largest city. The res­o­lu­tion also called for a no-fly zone over the nation and an arms embar­go on the Gad­hafi regime.

“We have car­ried out that man­date with remark­able suc­cess,” the Ras­mussen said. “We mount­ed a com­plex oper­a­tion with unprece­dent­ed speed and con­duct­ed it with the great­est of care. We were fast, flex­i­ble, effec­tive and pre­cise. We did what we said we would do, and now it is time for the Libyan peo­ple to take their des­tiny ful­ly into their own hands.”

The Unit­ed States is ful­ly in tune with the alliance deci­sion. “We sup­port the deci­sion by the North Atlantic Coun­cil to begin wind­ing down Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor and await any for­mal deci­sion to end the mis­sion,” said Pen­ta­gon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kir­by. “In the mean­time, in keep­ing with the direc­tion we have been giv­en by the com­man­der in chief, U.S. forces will con­tin­ue to sup­port the mis­sion as appro­pri­ate.”

Speak­ing from Brus­sels, U.S. Ambas­sador to NATO Ivo Daalder said the North Atlantic Coun­cil � the alliance’s major delib­er­at­ing body� made the deci­sion to end the oper­a­tion exact­ly sev­en months after Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor began.

The oper­a­tion was a his­toric moment not only for the alliance, but also for the Libyan peo­ple, he said. NATO pro­vid­ed crit­i­cal sup­port in using air forces to stop Gadhafi’s forces from attack­ing civil­ians. “As a result of that effort, and par­tic­u­lar­ly as a result of the efforts of the Libyan peo­ple, the future is now firm­ly in the hands of the peo­ple of Libya,” he said.

The Unit­ed States played a vital role with­in the alliance, Daalder said. In March, the Unit­ed States led the effort to get the U.N. res­o­lu­tion. On March 19, U.S. forces led the effort to take out Gadhafi’s air defense sys­tem and pro­vide the air pro­tec­tion for civil­ians.

Once NATO took over the oper­a­tion April 1, unique Amer­i­can assets fed the alliance. These includ­ed air refu­el­ing capa­bil­i­ties, recon­nais­sance assets, search and res­cue capa­bil­i­ties and lead­er­ship in NATO’s com­mand and con­trol sys­tems. “This allowed part­ners … to engage in mil­i­tary oper­a­tions and bring about the changes on the ground that we have seen over the past few months,” Daalder said. “Now that Libya is tru­ly in the hands of the Libyan peo­ple � with the expec­ta­tion this week­end of the dec­la­ra­tion of lib­er­a­tion of Libya � it is time for NATO to end the oper­a­tion.”

Dur­ing his news con­fer­ence, Ras­mussen called the oper­a­tion a “spe­cial moment in his­to­ry, not only for the peo­ple of Libya and the wider region, but also for the NATO alliance. It shows that free­dom is the strongest force in the world.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)