BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The head of NATO said on Wednesday he hoped to see a solution to the Libyan conflict before the end of the alliance’s new 90-day mandate that runs until the end of September.
In a speech in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s departure from power was only a matter of time.
“The question is not if Gaddafi will go but when ... it could take some time yet but it could also happen tomorrow,” he said.
“I hope to see a solution to the conflict before the expiration of the 90-day mandate ... (but) we will stay committed for as long as it takes to finish our mission.”
The military alliance, which took command of a campaign of Western airstrikes on Libya on March 31, said earlier on Wednesday it had extended its mission for 90 days until the end of September after Gaddafi made it clear he would not step down.
The alliance has stepped up its bombing campaign against Gaddafi’s forces in recent weeks, but analysts say it has yet to deliver a decisive blow to topple him and the conflict could still drag on at least several more months.
NO MAJOR NATO ROLE POST-GADDAFI
Rasmussen said he did not see a major role for NATO after it had fulfilled its U.N.-mandated mission to protect Libyan civilians, but once Gaddafi was gone the international community must ensure a peaceful transition to democracy.
“It must start to plan and prepare for that day,” he said.
Rasmussen said NATO could help reform the security sector.
“Modern, effective and accountable defence and security institutions will be a vital priority,” he said. “We stand ready to share this collective experience and expertise ... for the benefit of Libya.”
“I could imagine providing assistance in building Libya’s new ministry of defence, a joint general staff and a national security agency institutions that would be accountable to a democratically elected government,” he said.
U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the Joint Operations Command at Naples conducting the Libya campaign, suggested on Monday that a small force may be needed once Gaddafi’s regime collapsed to help the transition to democracy.
“It could be the United Nations, it could the European Union, I guess for a short period of time it could be NATO,” he said.
Locklear said NATO was not carrying out plans to deploy such a force, but was discussing it because the alliance may be forced to act quickly to avoid a possible power vacuum.
However, NATO officials said that while NATO defence ministers would discuss at a meeting in Brussels next week what role the alliance could play in post-Gaddafi Libya, there was no plan to deploy ground troops there.
“NATO is not going to have a lead role,” one official said, while adding that as well as helping reforms, the alliance could provide logistical support to any stabilisation mission.
The European Union has said it would be willing to send troops to Libya to protect humanitarian aid work if asked by the United Nations. The United Nations has not made such a request.
Editing by Jon Hemming