Oct 20, 2011 SpaceWar.com (AFP)
NATO will begin Friday winding up its six-month mission in Libya, after the military alliance hailed the end of a four-decade "rule of fear" with Moamer Kadhafi's death.
"After 42 years, Colonel Kadhafi's rule of fear has finally come to an end," Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Inviting the Libyan people to now "truly decide their own future", he said an end to NATO's involvement in the oil-rich north African state "has now moved much closer".
Calling on "all Libyans to put aside their differences and work together to build a brighter future", Rasmussen said NATO "will terminate (its) mission" in coordination with the UN and the National Transitional Council (NTC).
He pinpointed a need for the NTC "to prevent any reprisals against civilians and to show restraint in dealing with defeated pro-Kadhafi forces".
But he added: "With the reported fall of Bani Walid and Sirte, that moment has now moved much closer."
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, is due to issue a recommendation, "probably tomorrow, for the end of the operation", a NATO official said.
Another senior official also said military planners would recommend "within a day or so" whether to call a complete halt to the mission or "to halt the strikes and continue monitoring for a couple of weeks".
A "key factor" is whether the NTC can provide adequate security on the ground, the official said.
"From the moment the NTC declares that Libyan territory has been liberated, then obviously the NATO operation is over," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told French radio during a visit to India.
"Today, Libya's future begins," said the NTC's ambassador to Britain Mahmud Nacua late on Thursday.
However, he refused to be drawn on whether the NTC now planned to hold elections.
"The next step (is), we look forward to building a new Libya as a state of law," he said.
A final decision to end the NATO mission will rest with the ambassadors of the 28-nation alliance.
NATO aircraft struck two pro-Kadhafi military vehicles in the vicinity of Sirte on Thursday morning.
Asked whether the fugitive Libyan leader had been hit in the strikes, a NATO spokesman said: "It's very possible because of the timing but we cannot confirm it."
Since March 31, NATO warplanes prevented Kadhafi from crushing a rebellion that erupted in February while daily bombing runs left the fugitive former leader's military in tatters, allowing the ragtag rebel army to take over the country in August.
Since taking over air and sea operations around Libya on March 31, NATO has launched 9,618 strike sorties.
It was the first NATO operation with Europeans in the driver's seat while the United States took a backup role.
But Operation Unified Protector revealed shortcomings within the 28-nation alliance, with some allies refusing to participate while those who did relied heavily on the United States for key intelligence and logistics support.
Only eight NATO states took part in bombing missions -- France, Britain, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Italy and the United States -- while Germany and Poland irked allies by staying out of the fight.