By CNN Senior National Security Producer Charley Keyes
The United States believes NATO has accomplished its mission in Libya, but the formal decision to end air attacks and other operations is still in the future, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.
After meeting NATO allies in Brussels, Panetta said the conclusion of Libyan operations depends on the safety of civilians, the remaining capability of toppled leader, Moammar Gadhafi, and whether opposition forces can provide security.
"The decisions there will depend a great deal on the recommendations of our commanders who I think will review all of those guidelines and come forward with their recommendations when the mission ought to conclude," Panetta said at a news conference Thursday. "But ultimately it is the decision of the political leaders there, all of the political leaders that are involved to make the decision when in fact the mission would come to an end."
Looking forward, Panetta said NATO countries also need to consider whether and how to help a new Libyan government.
"I think we have shown the world NATO can be extremely effective in these kinds of missions to not only protect the civilian population but ultimately to give opportunity to the Libya people, the goal of achieving democracy," Panetta said. "And if they are to succeed then the international community in general owes it to them to provide whatever help and assistance is necessary in order to guarantee they succeed in this effort."
Several nations, working under NATO, provided air support and military equipment in the mission to protect Libyan civilians as designated in a United Nations Security Council resolution, after popular protests were being brutally crushed by forces loyal to Gadhafi.