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NATO's next Libya move could be stepping aside

Aug. 23, 2011 - 07:26AM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 23, 2011 - 07:26AM  |  
President Obama speaks about Libya to the press in Chilmark, Mass., on Monday. NATO's work in Libya is largely complete, but analysts say its efforts could be undermined if the Western alliance is seen as the driving force behind the rebels, who are close to forcing Moammar Gadhafi from power.
President Obama speaks about Libya to the press in Chilmark, Mass., on Monday. NATO's work in Libya is largely complete, but analysts say its efforts could be undermined if the Western alliance is seen as the driving force behind the rebels, who are close to forcing Moammar Gadhafi from power. (Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — NATO's work in Libya is largely done, but analysts say its efforts could be undermined if the Western alliance is seen as the sole power behind the rebel forces that are close to forcing Moammar Gadhafi from power.

The United Nations and groups such as the Arab League also need to offer support to the new government, says Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at RAND Corp. and an expert on Libya. The new leaders in Libya will lack credibility if they're seen as puppets of the western military alliance.

"Because the regime was toppled with NATO assistance, any successor could face legitimacy problems," Wehrey said.

Ideally, NATO's military role will end quickly and a non-military coalition of groups will help Libyans build a functioning government, he said.

Since the start of the war in March, NATO planes have flown nearly 20,000 combat missions, according to NATO records. On Sunday, NATO planes launched attacks on nine surface-to-air missile sites in Tripoli.

"NATO decimated a quantitative advantage Gadhafi's forces had in armor and equipment," Wehrey said. "It allowed for the rebels' advantage in morale and will to really carry the day."

Since launching the initial attacks in March, the U.S. military role has been largely relegated to supporting other NATO forces.

The apparent success of the NATO mission in Libya shows that the U.S. military doesn't have to shoulder the entire burden of enforcing international sanctions, Wehrey said. Despite problems maintaining a months-long military mission, including running short of bombs, NATO was able to continue to destroy Gadhafi's military.

If NATO had failed to help topple Gadhafi, it would have called into question the alliance's reason for being, Wehrey said.

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