NATO should stay involved in Libya until the end of this year to help prevent loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi from leaving the country, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the interim leader, has said.
NATO, whose air attacks backed National Transitional Council (NTC) forces that overthrew Gaddafi in August, is to decide on Friday whether to end its mission after his death and burial in the past week and a liberation declaration by the NTC.
“We look forward to NATO continuing its operations until the end of the year,” Jalil said at a conference in Doha, the Qatari capital, on Wednesday.
Stating that stopping the flight of Gaddafi supporters to other countries was a priority, he said: “We seek technical and logistics help from neighbouring and friendly countries.”
Qatar was one of the first countries to recognise the NTC as the legitimate authority in Libya and supplied the anti-Gaddafi forces with water, weapons and more than $400m in aid.
On Wednesday, Qatar revealed that hundreds of its soldiers had joined Libyan rebel forces on the ground as they battled Gaddafi troops, the AFP news agency reported.
The announcement marks the first time that the Gulf state has acknowledged it had military boots on the ground in Libya.
“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were hundreds in every region,” said Major General Hamad bin Ali Al-Atiya, the Qatari military’s chief of staff.
Wednesday’s meeting in Doha focused on how the allies could help the new authorities bring stability to the nation.
One of Libya’s immediate demands is to hold up on lifting the no-fly zone that the UN Security Council imposed in March.
Libya’s deputy UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the council Wednesday that the Libyan people look forward to terminating the UN mandates as soon as possible. But he said the transitional government needs to evaluate the security situation and the country’s ability to monitor its borders.
In Brussels on Wednesday, a NATO official said the alliance had postponed until Friday a meeting of its ambassadors which had been set for Wednesday and was expected to formalise a decision to end its Libya mission.
“The Libya discussion has been moved to Friday to accommodate the ongoing consultations with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council,” the NATO official said.
NATO states took a preliminary decision last Friday to wind up the mission in Libya on October 31, and the commander of the operation said on Tuesday that the alliance believed NTC forces would be capable of handing security threats.
But Ali Tarhouni, Libya’s interim oil and finance minister, said on Tuesday he wanted NATO to maintain its mission for another month.
NATO’s 26,000 sorties, carried out primarily by French, US and British forces, destroyed about 5,900 military targets since they started on March 31.
These included Libya’s air defences and more than 1,000 tanks, vehicles and guns, as well as Gaddafi’s command-and-control networks.
The daily air raids enabled NTC forces to advance and take Tripoli two months ago.
On Sunday, Libya’s interim rulers declared the country liberated, launching the oil-rich nation on what is meant to be a two-year transition to democracy.
Gaddafi’s fugitive son Saif al-Islam and his former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi have proposed to hand themselves over to the International Criminal Court, Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday, citing NTC military officials.
Their whereabouts remain uncertain, with media reports suggesting al-Senussi might have slipped into neighbouring Niger.