NATO announced plans Friday to end its seven-month mission in Libya on October 31 but will issue a formal decision next week after consulting the United Nations and Libya's interim authorities.
"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," NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after lengthy talks in Brussels with ambassadors of the 28-member alliance on when and how to wrap up the campaign.
"In the meantime, I will consult closely with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council," Libya's interim authority, he added.
"I'm very proud of what we have achieved, together with our partners, including many from the region."
NATO would continue to "monitor the situation and retain the capacity to respond to threats to civilians, if needed," Rasmussen added a day after the death of Moamer Kadhafi and the fall of his last strongholds.
Asked to confirm that a NATO strike against Kadhafi's convoy near Sirte on Thursday was unintentional, Rasmussen said the former Libyan leader had never been a target, while NATO indicated it only learned later of his location.
The transatlantic military alliance was also unaware of the whereabouts of Kadhafi's son Saif al-Islam, according to Rasmussen.
He urged the transitional authorities "to live up to respect of human rights, including full transparency."
The American ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, hailed a "historic moment" for the Libyan people and the transatlantic alliance.
"We will be winding down the operation" and no longer enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, he said in teleconference with reporters in Washington.
Earlier, the head of the allied command, US Admiral James Stavridis 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."
By its own count, the alliance has conducted 26,156 flights, including 9,634 strike sorties, since taking over the air and sea mission from Paris and London on March 31 under a UN mandate to protect civilians at threat from Kadhafi's regime.
NATO aircraft struck 11 pro-Kadhafi 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 said.
NATO forces 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 Kadhafi.
(c) 2011 AFP
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