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NATO endorses decision to extend Libya operation

NATO defense ministers have endorsed the decision to extend Operation Unified Protector by 90 days, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said here today.

The extension authorizes NATO to continue operations through the end of September, the secretary general said during a news conference at the alliance’s headquarters in conjunction with a meeting of NATO defense ministers in which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is participating.

The NATO effort in Libya has made progress, Rasmussen said.

“If you look at the situation we have in Libya now and compare it with the situation when Operation Unified Protector began,” he said, “it is clear how much NATO and its partners have achieved.”

Alliance forces stopped Moammar Gadhafi’s advance on Benghazi, preventing a massacre, Rasmussen said. “We have preserved innocent lives by keeping the air and sea open for humanitarian aid, even while we closed it to weapons and mercenaries,” he added.

Alliance forces have prepared the ground for a political settlement by making it clear there is no future for violence and repression in Libya, the secretary general said. “All of the ministers agreed that we will keep up the pressure for as long as it takes to put this crisis to an early conclusion,” he told reporters.

NATO ministers agreed to continue to support the effort in Libya, the secretary general said, by providing the necessary capabilities to continue and conclude the operation.

“We agreed that the time has come to plan for the day after the conflict,” Rasmussen said. “Gadhafi is history. It is no longer a question of if he goes, but when he goes. It may take weeks, but it could happen tomorrow. The international community has to be ready.”

NATO will not have a leading role in Libya after the conflict, the secretary general said.

“The time to start planning is now,” he added, “because Gadhafi’s reign of terror is coming to an end, and we must be prepared for when it is over.”

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