After three months of conducting airstrikes on Libyan government targets, NATO officials announced on Wednesday that they would be extending operations in the embattled country for another three months.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that extending operations in the country for another 90 days was approved by NATO partner countries.
“This decision sends a clear message to the Gadhafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya,” Rasmussen said. “We will sustain our efforts to fulfill the United Nations mandate. We will keep up the pressure to see it through.”
Initially in late March, NATO said they would attack military targets for a 90-day period in order to protect civilians and enforce a United Nations no-fly zone mandate. The airstrikes were first conducted by the U.K., France, and the U.S. before being officially taken over by NATO on March 31, so the 90-day period and would continue to keep up on airstrikes until June 27.
The decision to stick around until September “sends a clear message to the people of Libya,” he said, “NATO, our partners, the whole international community, stand with you. We stand united to make sure that you can shape your own future. And that day is getting closer.”
Gadhafi’s departure from power is only a matter of time, Rasmussen added. “I hope to see a solution to the conflict before the expiration of the 90-day mandate,” he said in a video feed, adding that the 28-member state coalition will stay there as long as it takes to finish the mission.
The announcement comes several days after five top generals and three more officers defected from Gadhafi’s regime, saying that they do not agree with the government’s decision to endanger civilians. At least 100 members of the army also defected.The Libyan government was dealt another powerful blow on Wednesday as Libyan oil chief Shukri Ghanem said he was defecting and that he supports the rebels, reported The Associated Press, citing Italy’s ANSA.
“In this situation you can no longer work, so I have left my country and my work to unite myself with the choice of young Libyans to fight for a democratic country,” he said.