BRUSSELS, May 25. /TASS/. NATO’s bombardment of Libya back in 2011 was aimed at protecting civilians, the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an exclusive interview with TASS ahead of the NATO summit due on May 25.
"If anyone destroyed structures and institutions in Libya, it was Kaddafi, 42 years of dictatorship, which ended in a civil war, and few, if any, strong institutions, especially no civil institutions," he said. "When NATO went in with the air campaign it was after a clear UN mandate, it was supported by regional organizations like the Arab league, there were participants from the Gulf countries and countries in the region. And we implemented a very clear UN mandate," Stoltenberg added.
When asked how come the UN mandate, which stipulated setting up a no-fly zone in Libya to protect civilians, provided NATO with the right to destroy the ground equipment of the Libyan military, Stoltenberg said that "it was all about using all necessary means to protect civilians and that was the reason why NATO went in supported by countries in the region and the Arab league."
"We protected civilians. You have to remember that at that stage Libya was in a civil war and we’ve seen in Syria how that can end," the NATO secretary general pointed out.
"We acted on a clear mandate, we protected civilians. The challenge was that after the mandate ended, then the international community, and that’s not only NATO, it’s the whole of the international community, was not focused enough on the importance of building institutions, building local capacity and stabilize Libya," Stoltenberg went on to say.
"This is a responsibility for the whole international community: the UN, the EU, NATO and also the Libyans, which in many ways underestimated the challenges," he added.
"That’s why NATO now is focused on how we can help the UN-recognized government to build institutions, to secure political control over the armed forces and also on how we can support all efforts to find a peaceful negotiated solution," the NATO secretary general noted.
The French and British air forces launched airstrikes on the Libyan government troops on March 19, 2011, while on March 31, the air operation’s control was handed over to NATO. The Operation Unified Protector was expected to be a 90-day campaign but in fact it lasted seven months. According to NATO, more than 26,000 flights were carried out, including around 10,000 sorties, during which NATO’s aircraft destroyed 5,900 "military targets." The operation came to an end only after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been killed by rebels.