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)