At one minute to midnight last night, Nato formally ended its mission in Libya, capping a seven-month intervention marred by accusations of "mission creep" and signs of deepening cracks within the alliance.
But as the Nato Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, arrived in Tripoli yesterday, he insisted that the end of the mission marked the conclusion of a "successful chapter in Nato's history". "It's great to be in Libya – free Libya. We acted to protect you. Together we succeeded. Libya is finally free, from Benghazi to Brega, from Misrata to the Western Mountains and to Tripoli." At the same time, Libya's new leaders took another step toward a democratic system by choosing a new prime minister, US-educated electrical engineer Abdurrahim el-Keib, who replaces the departing Mahmoud Jibril.
Mr El-Keib, a National Transitional Council (NTC) member from Tripoli with a doctorate from North Carolina State University, said he would appoint an interim government within two weeks to pave the way for elections and the drafting of a new constitution.
In March, Libyan rebels had begged the West to help as Gaddafi loyalists stood poised to retake Benghazi, the eastern port town where the popular uprising against Gaddafi's brutal rule first took hold in February. By the middle of March, US, British and French warplanes were flying the first sorties in an aerial campaign that played a crucial role in ousting the dictator. By the end of March, Nato had formally assumed the lead role in the alliance. With the death of Gaddafi Nato said its mission was concluded. Nevertheless, the NTC asked Nato to stay on until the end of the year. The request was refused.
Yesterday, the NTC expressed its gratitude to Nato, a sentiment that appeared to be echoed in many parts of the war-torn country. "On behalf of the Libyan people, we express our appreciation and gratitude to the alliance, both the Nato alliance and Arab countries and friends. Thank you for that effort which achieved victory for us," said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the NTC.