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NATO in Libya: why the alliance is staying

NATO ministers decide to continue the mission in Libya amid concerns that Muammar Qaddafi is still at large and the new leadership council needs continuing help with security.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters on Thursday in Brussels. NATO has agreed to extend its mission in Libya.

Virginia Mayo/AP

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The word from NATO defense ministers Thursday that the Alliance is not ready end its Libya campaign reflects a two-fold objective: It encourages the new Libyan leadership to continue moving forward in the country’s political transition, and it dashes any hopes of remaining loyalists to Muammar Qaddafi that international oversight is about to end.

“We’re seeing a balancing in NATO’s message to Libya that tells the transitional leaders there won’t be any undue meddling in their affairs, while also letting the loyalists know that [NATO] is not pulling out,” says Fred Wehrey, a Libya expert at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif. “They’re trying to wean the new leaders and encourage them to walk on their own, while letting the holdouts know that nothing has changed that would encourage them to rally.”

NATO Defense ministers met in Brussels Thursday, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said afterward that a consensus formed around four conditions to be met before the mission could end:

  • An end to the armed resistance from loyalists in holdouts like Sirte, Colonel Qaddafi’s birthplace, and Bani Walid.
  • Successfully terminating the ability of remaining Qaddafi forces to attack civilians.
  • Assuring Qaddafi’s inability to command forces.
  • Certainty about the new leadership’s ability to secure the country.

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