Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Libya campaign 'close to the end'

Revolutionary fighters fire a belt-fed machine gun in Sirte (AP)

Nato is said to be considering ending its bombing campaign in Libya.

The North Atlantic Council, Nato's top decision-making body, is rumoured to be considering declaring an end to the seven-month-old Libyan operation when it meets on Wednesday.

But diplomatic sources said France and Britain have insisted that the bombing campaign continue until Libya's new authorities are able to assume responsibility for security nationwide.

"We are very close to the end, but there are still threats to the civilian population," Nato spokesman Carmen Romero said.

Nato warplanes have flown more than 9,500 strike sorties since the air attacks began on March 19. They were initially conducted by a US-led coalition, including France and Britain, but were taken over by the alliance at the end of March.

Still, only eight of Nato's 28 states took part in the actual strikes. Some diplomats expressed frustration at what they saw as an unnecessary distraction from Nato's main mission - the war in Afghanistan.

Western leaders initially expected the Libyan air campaign to last just a few weeks. But despite being constantly pummelled from the air, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces demonstrated unexpected resilience, forcing the alliance to repeatedly extend the campaign.

With armed opposition to the new Libyan authorities now limited to only a few towns, the alliance has scaled back the airstrikes, conducting an average of 15 a day in comparison to about 70 to 80 a day at the height of the campaign in the summer.

Mr Romero said the decision on ending the operation will be taken after the North Atlantic Council conducts a "careful and comprehensive" political and military analysis of the security situation.

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