NATO ending 7-month mission in Libya

in this Match 2011 file photo a Danish F-16 aircraft flies over a Danish Royal Airforce C-130 at the NATO airbase in Sigonella, Sicily - a key staging point for NATO's sorties over Libya. AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

BRUSSELS - NATO will end Monday the seven-month bombing campaign that enabled Libyan rebels to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi's regime.

NATO operations will end at midnight Monday Libyan time (2200 GMT, 6 p.m. EDT), just days after the U.N. Security Council — which authorized the mission in March — ordered an end to all military action.

Allied air forces carried out 9,600 strike sorties in the past seven months, destroying about 5,900 military targets.

The alliance concluded its airstrikes soon after Qaddafi's capture and death on Oct. 20, but maintained regular air patrols over Libya.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has arrived in Tripoli for talks with Libya's interim government, the National Transitional Council. This is Rasmussen's first visit to Libya since the anti-Qaddafi rebellion started in February.

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Spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said NATO staff temporarily seconded to the headquarters in Naples, Italy, for the operation are being reassigned to regular duties.

The mission has been hailed as a success by NATO's military and political leaders, who have argued that the bombing raids caused minimal loss of innocent lives while paralyzing Qaddafi's command and control networks and preventing his forces from carrying out reprisals against civilians.

NATO persevered during a months-long period of stalemate on the battlefields, when it appeared that Libya could become an Afghanistan-like quagmire.

"We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations," Rasmussen said Friday. "(The operation) is one of the most successful in NATO history."

But the campaign caused deep strains within the alliance, with only eight of the 28 member states agreeing to participate in the bombing. Although allied aircraft enjoyed total air supremacy after Qaddafi's weak air defenses were incapacitated early on, it took more than seven months of daily airstrikes to finally defeat his demoralized forces.

Critics — including Russia, China, the African Union, and other governments — have argued that NATO misused the limited U.N. resolution imposing a no-fly zone and authorizing the protection of civilians as a pretext to promote regime change.

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