NATO won't halt its bombing campaign in Libya, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday, owing to continued fighting around Sirte, birthplace of Muammar al-Gaddafi.
The LA Times quotes Panetta — who has been meeting with NATO defense chiefs and military commanders at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, as saying:
"If there continues to be serious fighting, if there continues to be threats to the civilian population, then I'm sure this mission will continue."
Panetta said that NATO defense chiefs formed a consensus that four conditions must be met before the mission can end, the CSM reports:
- An end to the armed resistance from loyalists in holdouts like Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, and Bani Walid.
- Successfully terminating the ability of remaining Gaddafi forces to attack civilians.
- Assuring Gaddafi’s inability to command forces.
- Certainty about the new leadership’s ability to secure the country.
Panetta said that NATO had to first determine whether the Transitional National Council, the post-Gaddafi authority in Libya, can protect civilians, the New York Times reports.
U.S. and French officials has reportedly pushed for the air war to continue in Libya until at least until the TNC forces captured Sirte. Pro-Gaddafi fighters also control the small desert enclave of Bani Walid, the NYT reports.
However, according to the LATimes:
Other NATO members had urged ending the operation sooner, arguing that the alliance in effect had achieved its stated mission of protecting Libyan civilians even if fighting continues in scattered pockets.