BRUSSELS, Oct. 6, 2011 — Consensus exists among NATO members about how to decide when to end Operation Unified Protector in Libya, based on guidelines that can be used to evaluate conditions on the ground there, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
At his final press conference of the Oct. 5–6 NATO defense ministerial here, Panetta listed the four guidelines, which ask the following questions:
— What happens in Sirte? This is the hometown of former Libyan leader Muamar Gadhafi and heavy fighting is underway there.
— Does the Gadhafi regime maintain the capability to attack civilians?
— Does Gadhafi maintain command capability with his regime’s remaining forces?
— Are opposition forces able to provide security and confront challenges that may arise?
“The decision there will depend a great deal on the recommendations of our commanders who I think will review those guidelines and come forward with their recommendations as to when the mission ought to conclude,” Panetta said.
Joining Panetta in NATO Headquarters’ Luns Auditorium were Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, supreme allied commander Europe.
The decision won’t be based on “a set series of precise metrics,” Stavridis said during the press conference. “It’s rather a sense of the situation, and it will follow the guidelines that the secretary laid out.”
The military officers who head the air and sea portions of the Libya operation, he said, are Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of the NATO military mission in Libya, and Italian Navy Vice Adm. Rinaldo Veri, commander of the Maritime Command for Operation Unified Protector.
Together they will work through the confluence of factors involved in determining the mission’s status and present their views to Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples.
Ultimately the recommendations will be moved into the NATO political sphere for final determination, Stavridis said.
At his own final press conference of the ministerial, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the end is in sight for Libya operations.
“Gadhafi’s forces are fighting for a lost cause, the threat to civilians is fading away [and] the recent positive developments in Libya are irreversible,” he said.
NATO is determined to pursue the operation as long as fighting persists in Sirte, and end the operation as soon as political and military conditions are fulfilled, Rasmussen said.
“We launched Operation Unified Protector to protect the people of Libya,” he said. “We have conducted it in full compliance with our mandate, and I hope we’ll soon be able to end it in coordination with the United Nations and the legitimate legal authorities.
“We did the right thing in the right way and for the right reasons,” he added.
European allies and Canada took on the operation’s leadership and supplied the main effort, Rasmussen said.
“This was new,” he added, “it was welcome and could act as a model for the future.”
Libya’s new leadership faces huge political challenges, the secretary-general said, “but basically we’re confident that the National Transitional Council can manage a peaceful transition to democracy.”
Rasmussen does not foresee a major NATO role after the mission ends, he said.
“It is for the United Nations to take the lead in international efforts to assist the new authorities in Libya, if requested by the National Transitional Council,” he added. “But if we are requested to assist, we stand ready to help.”
In a longer-term perspective, Rasmussen said, “I could foresee that NATO could provide assistance in reforming defense and the security sector if requested by the NTC. We have a lot of expertise in that area.”
“If there’s a request and if there are needs that can be met,” Panetta said, “I think all of us in NATO would have to give serious consideration as to what kind of assistance, what kind of advice, what kind of training could be provided” to help the new leadership provide security to the population.
“If they are to succeed,” he added, “I think the international community, in general, owes it to them to provide whatever help is necessary to guarantee” that success.
Libya’s accomplishment “will be an extremely important signal to other countries in the region,” Panetta said, showing that as a result of the Arab Spring, any country can “move in the right direction to secure human rights, [implement] political and economic reform, and establish a better future for their people.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)