BRUSSELS — NATO's governing body meets Friday to decide when and how to end the seven-month bombing campaign in Libya, a military operation whose success has helped reinvigorate the Cold War alliance.
After Libya's former rebels killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday, officials said they expected the operation to end very soon. But the North Atlantic Council may also decide to keep air patrols flying for several more days until the security situation on the ground stabilizes.
The final decision will depend on the recommendation of Adm. Jim Stavridis, the supreme allied commander, and the Military Committee, the highest military organ.
NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said, after the latest developments, the end of the campaign "has now moved much closer." He has hailed the success of the mission saying that it demonstrated that the alliance continues to play an "indispensable" role in confronting current and future security challenges.
NATO warplanes have flown about 26,000 sorties, including over 9,600 strike missions. They destroyed Libya's air defenses and over 1,000 tanks, vehicles and guns, as well as Gadhafi's command and control networks.
The daily airstrikes finally broke the stalemate that developed after Gadhafi's initial attempts failed to crush the rebellion that broke out in February. In August, the rebels began advancing on Tripoli, with the NATO warplanes providing close air support and destroying any attempts by the defenders to block them.
In London, Britain suggested that NATO may not immediately complete its mission in Libya, wary over the potential for remaining Gadhafi loyalists to launch reprisal attacks.
"NATO will now meet to decide when the mission is complete, and once we are satisfied that there is no further threat to the Libyan civilians and the Libyans are content NATO will then arrange to wind up the operation," British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC radio on Friday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Barack Obama also discussed the NATO campaign in a video conference late Thursday.
"They discussed the need to maintain the NATO-led operation while a threat remained to civilian life," a spokeswoman for Cameron's office said, on customary condition of anonymity.
Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.
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