x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Nato and UN to wind down military intervention in Libya

Discussions continue about possible follow-up missions to help Libya's interim government stabilise the country.

The international community is ending the military intervention in Libya, with both Nato and the United Nations taking steps to wind down the operation that helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi.

But discussions continue about possible follow-up missions to help Libya's interim government stabilise the country.

Representatives from the 28-member Nato alliance decided on Friday to end the seven-month mission by October 31, following the death of Qaddafi on Thursday.

In the UN Security Council, Russia in particular is pushing for an immediate end to the no-fly zone imposed over Libya.

The alliance's operations were based on a UN Security Council resolution authorising the protection of civilians from Qaddafi's troops and imposing a no-fly zone and a weapons embargo on Libya.

Critics said the alliance has far exceeded its mandate and effectively intervened on one side in a civil war.

The operation involved 26,000 air sorties over Libya and included naval patrols.

Nato's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made it clear that the Nato operation would soon end.

"It is our intention to close the operation. It will be a clear-cut termination of our operation," he said.

But leaders of several Nato countries have signalled a desire to help stabilise the country to safeguard the success of a mission they invested in so heavily.

How that will be done, through further Nato action or via the UN or the European Union, is unclear.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said on Friday that it was up to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to decide on future aid from the international community.

"We have aided them in the past and will continue to aid them as far as they express the need," he said.

France, along with Great Britain, took the lead in supporting the rebellion. Its planes were the first to swing into action over Benghazi and were also the ones that likely intercepted Qaddafi's final attempt to escape Sirte.

The Libya intervention is seen as a rare success for Mr Sarkozy, who faces an uphill struggle for re-election next year.

The US president, Barack Obama, has claimed credit for his strategy of letting Nato take the lead in Libya, even though the US supplied the bulk of the logistical and material support for the mission and spent the largest amount of money on it.

Foreign policy is not expected to dominate the 2012 elections in either France or the US.

But failure in Libya might affect the image of those countries' leaders.

Instability in Libya would certainly be unwelcome, said Daniel Keohane, of the Paris-based Institute of Security Studies.

"If there is no stability, that would beg the question if the whole operation was really a success."

But the question of a future mission, whether by Nato, the UN or anybody else, would depend on developments on the ground over the next couple of weeks - in particular on the ability of the NTC to unite the different factions.

Short of a new, and for now unlikely, UN resolution, "it would have to be at the invitation of the Libyans themselves", said Mr Keohane.

One obstacle to further Nato involvement is the division within the alliance on such operations. Germany and Poland did not participate.

A bigger stumbling block may be concerns over image problems, if western soldiers were to operate on the ground in an Arab country.

Some Nato partners, particularly the US, would be unwilling to get "sucked in" to yet another quagmire in a Muslim country, said Richard Gowan, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"In the American case, the administration is keen to avoid the impression that it is getting drawn into another Middle Eastern state-building project," said Mr Gowan, who is based in New York.

Also, the EU and the UN are both present in Libya, where they are working with the interim government. "Where would Nato fit into that?" Mr Gowan asked. "Nato countries would not provide ground troops, that is politically unsustainable at the moment."

While Nato's role in Libya has been hailed by many governments as a success and a possible model for future action, it was unlikely it would be replicated in Syria and Yemen, said both analysts.

Instability in Syria "has a huge regional knock-on effect", as opposed to Libya, Mr Keohane said.

And the US is much more invested in Yemen than it was in Libya.

In the US, naysayers who had insisted that the Libya operation was doomed and that only "boots on the ground" would work had been proved wrong, Mr Gowan said.

"But I would be very sceptical to say that this model can be transferred to Syria," he added.