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31 Oct, 2011 09:18

NATO leaving Libya for good or ill

After seven months, NATO’s mission over Libya is winding up on Monday, despite calls from the interim leadership for the operation to continue.

The Security Council voted on October 27 to remove the country's no-fly zone, and end the coalition's campaign.The UN mandate for NATO action came after reports that the former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was using heavy weapons and air force planes in a crackdown on the opposition. The reports were later proved to be exaggerated.The NATO operation, which started in late March and replaced a two-week bombing campaign under US command, was hailed by the Alliance’s head, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as one of its most successful missions.Over the seven months, NATO carried out more than 26,000 sorties including 9,600 strike sorties. The alliance also inspected 296 naval ships in Libyan territorial waters. It facilitated delivery of 2,100 shipments of humanitarian aid.Critics said NATO had breached the spirit of the UN resolution, which limited its activities to protecting civilians,  and was a de facto warring party in the Libyan civil conflict. It was also widely criticized for supplying the rebels with arms in violation of the UN embargo, which the coalition was meant to enforce, and turning a blind eye to troops from Qatar and the UAE who fought against Gaddafi.The total death toll of the war is estimated at at least 30,000 people by the new government. How many of the casualties were civilians killed by NATO bombs is not clear. The alliance claimed that it only hit military targets, but during the conflict Gaddafi loyalists regularly reported civilian deaths in air strikes.It is difficult to see how those who toppled Gaddafi’s regime can claim the moral high ground. A number of reports have emerged about mass executions, forced evictions and other forms of persecution in rebel-controlled territory. The circumstances of the former leader’s death are also very suspicious. Gaddafi was  apparently tortured and summarily executed after his capture.Libya’s interim leadership will take on full responsibility for national security starting from Tuesday. They are tasked with rebuilding and restoring order in a country flooded with weapons and riven by factional divisions. There are fears that Libya, a secular socialist country under Gaddafi, will now turn into a fundamentalist nation living under sharia law.