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NATO will stop bombing Libya but won’t leave

NATO’s war in Libya will come to an end on October 31, 2011. Preparations are currently underway.

NATO’s war in Libya will come to an end on October 31, 2011. Preparations are currently underway. On Thursday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution announcing that Libya’s air space will be open to both NATO aircraft and local airliners starting next Monday. This resolution ends the no-fly zone introduced by the Security Council in mid March, just two days before the war. The draft resolution, proposed jointly by Russia and Britain, was unanimously approved.

The Security Council did not end the war
Does this mean that the war in Libya is over? Will NATO forces really leave? How can the Security Council make the decision to end a war it did not start?

Let’s recall that Resolution 1973 of March authorized force against the Gaddafi regime but did not mention war as such.
Russia still maintains that this document did not sanction combat operations and that the Western countries that started the war with the support of several Arab monarchies, particularly Qatar, violated the resolution. Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said yesterday that the lessons of the events in Libya must be learned. Western politicians, for their part, tell Moscow not to play dumb – it allowed the resolution to pass with its abstention. Experts had no doubt that this would automatically lead to war.
Today I have seen for myself that it was not the Security Council and not Russia that made the decision to end NATO’s military actions in Libya. I saw firsthand in Doha (the capital of the small but significant Qatar) how such strategic plans are adopted.

Friends of Libya set Oct. 31 deadline
As a political scientist, I was allowed to attend the Doha meeting of the Libya Contact Group (also called the Friends of Libya), which is now winding down. Established in London on March 29, ten days after the start of the war, it was initially involved in overthrowing the Gaddafi regime. Now it has embarked on building a new Libya.

The new Libyan leaders have been meeting with high-ranking diplomats and military officials from allied countries in different cities of the world. Russia’s official representatives have not yet attended these meetings. On this occasion, the Friends of Libya gathered in one of the Doha’s finest hotels.

Libya was represented by National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and some of his deputies and associates, including Defense Minister Jalal al-Digheili. The Islamist Abdul Hakim Belhadj is also considered to be a leader of the rebel military forces. A fierce struggle for the top spots in the new government is underway.

Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Crown Prince of Qatar, attended the opening of the meeting. On October 26, one day before the Security Council passed its resolution, they finalized their earlier agreement that NATO should officially announce the end of combat operations in Libya. The meeting was lead by Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiya, Qatari chief of staff and a relative of the emir. He told me that they had also suggested the date – October 31.

A new military coalition to help Libya
It was only after the victors tied up the loose ends that the issue was submitted for a vote at the Security Council. Important political decisions are no longer made in the UN, no matter how much China and Russia are trying to resist this or present it in a different light.
Some meticulous analysts have noted that at the very same meeting in Doha Libyan leader Abdul-Jalil declared for some reason that he would like NATO to continue its activities in Libya “at least up to the end of this year.” Some commentators see this as a contradiction: the agreement was to wind down NATO involvement by the end of this month, and yet there is this suggestion that it could be extended.  

This is not a contradiction. Abdul-Jalil (a former justice minister in the Gaddafi government) is not well versed in big time politics. He said what was on his mind and what is actually happening on the ground. NATO forces will remain in Libya at least to the end of this year and maybe even longer, even after adopting to the resolution. They will simply change the name of the operation and slightly alter the staff. 

This would no longer be a NATO operation but a mission of the Friends of Libya coalition. Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiya told me that it “will consist of 13 or more countries,” led by Qatar. The United Arab Emirates will likely join. France, Britain, the United States and some other NATO members have already agreed to participate. So in reality NATO forces will continue to be geared towards Libya, although this won’t be so obvious to the public eye.

Moreover, the military officials that attended the meeting suggested to me that the aircraft of the partner countries may continue patrolling Libya’s air space. Libyans will be steadily adopting NATO standards in military training.
The allies are refining their mission as events develop. However, all participants in the meeting agreed that the war in Libya was not yet over. The Libyans talked at length about Gaddafi supporters that were still fighting, and the inability of the new leaders to protect the country’s land and maritime borders or put an end to arms trafficking.

To sum up, the war will continue for some time, and NATO will remain in Libya for a long time to come, even though it has achieved its main goal – the Libyan opposition and its friends from several dozen Western and Arab countries have ousted Gaddafi.

Yelena Suponina is a Middle East scholar and a commentator for The Moscow News. She filed this report for RIA Novosti from Doha, the capital of Qatar. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti

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