Panetta Begins Next-step Discussions with NATO Partners

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 – As Operation Unified Protector winds down in Libya, the Defense Department and its NATO partners have had early discussions about future roles in that embattled nation, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

Panetta briefed reporters here along with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

„Our view is that this mission went well [and] that the role that NATO performed there was the right one,“ Panetta said.

Rebel forces that rose up against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi „have made significant progress,“ the secretary added, although some elements of the regime continue to fight.

In the meantime, Panetta said, four military personnel arrived in Libya last week to help the State Department assess damage to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

„Within the last few days, we’ve deployed another 12,“ the secretary said, to try to reopen the embassy „within the next few weeks. But that’s it. We have not and do not intend to put any combat forces on the ground.“

As to NATO’s future role there, „that’s something we’re going to be discussing with NATO as we see events unfold in Libya,“ Panetta said, adding that he’s begun discussions with his NATO partners, „trying to decide … what should be the next steps.“

Mullen met with the NATO chiefs of defense over the weekend. „A number of them went out of their way to thank the United States for the support to enable them to be able to succeed to this point,“ he said.

„The decision was made, obviously, to put us in a support role,“ Mullen said. „That was, clearly, critical.“

NATO, he added, is „a critical alliance, has been, is and will be for the future.“

In New York today, at the first meeting of the „Friends of Libya,“ NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO is committed to continuing its mission in Libya for as long as threats against civilians endure.

The meeting coincided with that of the U.N. General Assembly. It brought together international heads of state and government and representatives of key international and regional organizations, including from the African Union, European Union and United Nations to discuss ways to aid Libya’s transition to a functioning democracy.

„The days of the former regime are clearly numbered,“ Rasmussen said. „The recent positive developments in Libya are irreversible.“

He also welcomed the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2009, which establishes a U.N. mission in Libya, according to NATO. Resolutions 1970 and 1973, which mandated international action to protect civilians in Libya, remain in place as threats against the civilian population persist.

„Our operation has been a success,“ Rasmussen said.

„Allies and partners alike have made a difference by mounting a complex operation in very little time, carrying out our mandate to the letter and with the highest degree of military professionalism to avoid harm to the Libyan people and their infrastructure,“ he said.

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