BRUSSELS, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Even though the end is in sight in terms of the Libyan conflict, the threat to civilians in the country remains, NATO officials said of continuing the mission.
The U.N. Security Council in March backed a resolution that sanctioned a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from attack by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. The International Criminal Court later found evidence to suggest Gadhafi and members of his inner circle had committed crimes against humanity since February.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told defense ministers in Brussels that remaining Gadhafi loyalists were fighting a lost cause but the mission, Operation Unified Protector, wasn't over.
"We are determined to pursue our operation as long as threats persist -- but to end it as soon as conditions permit," said Rasmussen in his remarks. "So we stand ready to terminate the mission when the political and military conditions are fulfilled."
Tripoli fell into rebel hands in August and much of the international community has now recognized the rebel-backed Transitional National Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya.
Defense officials earlier this week said the weak economy was jeopardizing defense budgets. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, however, that the economy "cannot be an excuse for walking away from our national security responsibilities."