Some reconnaissance flights will continue in the coming days as the country settles into a post-Qaddafi era, military officials say, but all operations are expected to end within two weeks.
NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels were expected to approve the recommendation of military commanders that the seven-month campaign, which provided air and maritime patrols and about 10,000 bombing missions targeting loyalist forces, should end.
In an usual turn, the NATO commander of Libya operations, Adm. James Stavridis, used his Facebook Wall Friday to announce, “I will be recommending conclusion of this mission to the North Atlantic Council of NATO.” He then added, “A good day for NATO. A great day for the people of Libya.”
But the decision essentially to declare “mission accomplished” and close a chapter does not mean NATO has no future role in a damaged country facing the daunting prospect of building itself from scratch.
In addition, Friday’s decision leaves unanswered questions over NATO’s role in Libya’s war, such as whether or not the alliance overstepped the bounds of a United Nations mandate for the protection of civilians and ultimately undertook a campaign of regime change.
President Obama is touting NATO’s intervention in Libya as an example of the kind of “international burden-sharing” he foresees replacing the costly, American-led model of intervention exemplified by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But some military analysts question just how “international” NATO’s Libya mission really was – by far the three major players were France, Great Britain, and the US. Others say the mission revealed a “military alliance” in name only that will be hampered, when future crises arise, by the fact that only a few members will be willing and able to join in.
This dynamic was underscored by new information that emerged Friday that a US drone joined a French fighter jet in striking Qaddafi’s convoy as it attempted to flee the besieged city of Sirte Thursday.
Qaddafi was captured alive by Libyan fighters as he tried to escape the destroyed convoy on foot. At some point his body was delivered to the country’s new transitional leaders, raising questions about the former leader’s last minutes and what the mob scene around his bloody corpse portends for Libya’s emergence from months of deeply divisive fighting.
The US is making clear its intentions to remain engaged in Libya, particularly in assisting the fledgling government as it struggles to guarantee security for the entire country and plans for elections sometime next year.
“There are significant security challenges ahead for Libya,” Mark Toner, State Department deputy spokesperson, said Thursday. “Whether that is something NATO can help them with, or whether we can help them with, or whether other countries can help them with, we’ll figure that out in the days ahead.”
The US is already aiding Libyan authorities in trying to track down, secure, and destroy thousands of conventional weapons – including what are thought to be thousands of shoulder-fired missiles.