NATO Plans to End Libya Mission by Oct. 31

Formal decision expected next week; NATO does not plan to keep forces in region; Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls operation a 'remarkable success'.

NATO plans to end its seven-month air and sea campaign in Libya at the end of October, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday, the day after the death of Muammar Gadhafi.

Rasmussen said that a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels set October 31 as a provisional date to end the mission and a formal decision would be made next week.

Libya March 21 2011

He said the mission would be wound down in the period until the end of the month.

NATO officials said the formal decision would be based on the perception of the security situation after the transitional authorities declared the formal liberation of Libya, something they say they plan to do on Sunday.

Rasmussen said NATO had no intention to keep forces in the Libyan area after the end of the month.

"It is our intention to close the operation. It will be a clear-cut termination of our operation," he said.

"We agreed that our operations are very close to completion and we have taken a preliminary decision to end Operation Unified Protector on Oct. 31," Rasmussen told a news conference.

"(Until October 31) NATO will monitor the situation and retain the capacity to respond to threats to civilians, if needed."

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador Ivo Daalder, said that the NATO forces involved in the Libyan mission would "revert back to national control" once operations ended.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen NATO conference AP 20/11/10

The Pentagon backed the NATO decision and would await a formal decision to end the mission, Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said in a statement.

"In the meantime, in keeping with the direction we have been given by the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. forces will continue to support the mission as appropriate," Kirby said.

Gadhafi death

Rasmussen said NATO had fulfilled its United Nations mandate to protect civilians in Libya with "remarkable success" and called it "a special moment in history."

"We mounted a complex operation with unprecedented speed and conducted it with the greatest of care," he said. "I'm very proud of what we have achieved."

"Now is the time for the Libyan people to take their destiny fully into their own hands to build a new, inclusive Libya based on democracy and reconciliation human rights and the rule of law."

Gadhafi, who had been on the run for more than two months, was tracked down and killed in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday after his convoy was hit by a NATO air strike.

Asked if he supported an investigation into the manner of Gadhafi's death, given that he had been captured alive, Rasmussen said this was a matter for the Libyan authorities, but he would expect them to live up fully to principles of respect for the rule of law and human rights, including transparency.

He said NATO had not deliberately targeted Gadhafi and that he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of his son Saif al-Islam.

Daalder noted that Libya's transitional authorities were working to determine the precise cause and circumstances of Gadhafi's death. "We welcome that. We urge them to do it in an open, transparent manner," he said

NATO has been conducting air strikes, enforcing a no-fly zone and maintaining an arms embargo with naval patrols since March 31, in a UN-mandated operation to protect civilians.

While the operation represents a success for NATO that has distracted attention from its long and troubled mission in Afghanistan, allies have been keen to see a quick conclusion to a costly effort that has involved more than 26,000 air sorties and round-the-clock naval patrols at a time when defense budgets are under severe strain due to the global economic crisis.

The decision to end the mission was taken after recommendations from NATO's top operations commander, Admiral James Stavridis. In post on his Facebook page he called it "a good day for NATO. A great day for the people of Libya."

NATO officials said the decision would take into account the ability of Libya's interim authorities to maintain security. On Wednesday, NATO ambassadors put off a decision because of caution by countries such as Britain and France, which have been at the forefront of the military intervention.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe earlier told Europe 1 radio that NATO's military intervention was now over, but France would assist the interim authorities in the transition to a democratic government.