BRUSSELS (AFP) – NATO plans to end its seven-month air and sea mission in Libya on October 31 but will issue a formal decision next week after consulting the United Nations and Libya’s interim authorities, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.
“We agreed that our operations are very close to completion and we have taken a preliminary decision to end Operation Unified Protector on October 31,” Rasmussen said after long talks in Brussels with ambassadors of the 28-member alliance on when and how to wind up the campaign.
“In the meantime, I will consult closely with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council,” the interim authority in Libya, he added.
“I’m very proud of what we have achieved, together with our partners, including many from the region,” he said.
NATO would continue to “monitor the situation and retain the capacity to respond to threats to civilians, if needed,” he added a day after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the fall of his last strongholds.
Asked to confirm that a NATO strike against Gaddafi’s convoy near Sirte on Thursday was unintentional, Rasmussen said the former Libyan leader had never been a target.
He also said in response to a question that NATO had no knowledge on the whereabouts of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam.
Rasmussen urged the transitional authorities “to live up to respect of human rights, including full transparency.”
Earlier, the head of the allied command, US Admiral James Stavridis had said on Facebook: “I will be recommending conclusion of this mission to the North Atlantic Council of NATO in a few hours.”
“An extraordinary 24 hours in Libya,” he added. “A good day for NATO. A great day for the people of Libya.”
The alliance by its own count has conducted 26,156 flights, including 9,634 strike sorties, since taking over the mission from Paris and London on March 31 under a UN mandate to protect civilians at threat from Kadhafi’s regime.
NATO earlier Friday said it was unaware that Gaddafi was travelling in a convoy struck by alliance aircraft near Sirte the previous day.
“At the time of the strike, NATO did not know that Gaddafi was in the convoy,” NATO said in a lengthy statement. “We later learned from open sources and Allied intelligence that Gaddafi was in the convoy.”
NATO aircraft struck 11 pro-Gaddafi vehicles at around 1030 GMT on Thursday that were part of a larger group of approximately 75 vehicles manoeuvring in the vicinity of Sirte.
Only one vehicle was destroyed, but that disrupted the convoy “and resulted in many vehicles dispersing and changing direction”.
NATO then engaged a group of approximately 20 vehicles, destroying or damaging around 10 of the vehicles.
“The strike likely contributed to his capture,” said NATO, referring to Gaddafi