US Defense Secretary: NATO Mission in Libya Could Continue

The world is anxiously awaiting the announcement that NATO’s mission in Libya will come to a close, following the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. However, at a news conference in Japan, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alluded to the fact that NATO might perhaps extend its stay in the recently liberated country.

Panetta said, “I noticed today that there were comments from some of the Libyan leadership asking that NATO continue its mission during this interim as they are trying to establish some of their governance.”

Panetta stated that the decision for NATO to stay and continue its work in Libya would be a decision the security organization would have to make on its own.

Following the announcement of Gaddafi’s death, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, “NATO and our partners have successfully implemented the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya.”

In his statement on the groundbreaking news, Rasmussen urged the Libyan people to put their differences aside and “work together to build a brighter future.”

Rasmussen also said that the alliance would end its 7-month mission in Libya Oct. 31, but added that an official and formal decision would be made early this week.

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC radio, “once we are satisfied that there is no threat to the Libyan civilians and the Libyans are content, NATO will then arrange to wind up the mission.”

Prior to Gaddafi’s capture and ultimate death, many analysts worried about Libya’s prospects for peace and democracy, Gaddafi or not.

Concerns emerged that the rebels may fight amongst themselves for political power and that the human rights of Gaddafi loyalists would not be respected with a Gaddafi-ousting.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) is currently running Libya and the NTC announced that it would plan to hold elections in June 2012.

The new leadership of the country proclaimed independence from 42-years of iron fist rule by Gaddafi on Sunday. The landmark event saw NTC leaders calling upon all Libyans for national unity and to reconcile their differences.

NTC leader Abdul Jalil told the crowds of euphoric people packed into Benghazi's Freedom Square, “I call on everyone for forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation.”

He added, “We must get rid of hatred and envy from our souls. This is a necessary matter for the success of the revolution and the success of the future Libya.”

Whether, or not, NATO will be necessary for the future success of Libya during its interim period remains to be seen as Libya's new leadership and the Libyan people forge their path ahead towards a democratic transition.