UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- NATO forces will operate in Libya as long as necessary to ensure a safe transition to a new political leadership, the NATO secretary-general said.
NATO forces began enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in March under the U.N.-mandated Operation Unified Protector. Tripoli in August feel under rebel control and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is on the run.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, despite political success in Libya, opted to extend the mandate for Unified Protector, while keeping the situation in the country under review. The extension came at the request of the Transitional National Council, whose flag now flies at the U.N. headquarters.
"We are determined to continue our mission for as long as necessary but ready to terminate the operation as soon as possible," he said.
The extension, he added, sends a message to the Libyan people that the international community is committed to do what's necessary to usher in a new leadership in the country.
"They were in full agreement that a good outcome was at hand in Libya, but there was much work to be done to support the TNC in an inclusive transition," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said in a statement.
Observers of the conflict in Libya have expressed concerns of the status of Libya's weapons stockpiles and unity within the transitional council.