NATO on Friday dismissed an apparent offer of elections by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as "a cynical PR ploy" and vowed to continue its mission until his forces no longer posed a threat to civilians. On the occasion Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera this week that elections could be held by the end of the year in the presence of international observers and that his father would be ready to step aside if he lost. But NATO called it.
"It's hard to imagine that after 41 years during which Gaddafi abolished elections, the constitution, political parties the trade unions, he would overnight turn into a democrat," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "What we, or the whole international community, want to see is action rather than words."
Libyan rebels quickly dismissed the offer of a poll on Thursday. The United States and Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi questioned the concession through recourse to Gaddafi’s own logic, saying there was no reason for him to step down since he had held no formal post since 1977. NATO military spokesman Mike Bracken said Gaddafi's forces continued to attack and threaten civilians whom the alliance is mandated to protect under a UN resolution.
He showed an intelligence video in which pro-Gaddafi forces fire missiles from a mosque at a target in a populated area. "NATO's campaign to protect the Libyan people must go on. It will continue until Gaddafi's forces stop attacking their own people," he said.
NATO, which took over the Libyan air operation on March 31, had hit more than 2,000 targets by June 12, according to Bracken. These included 370 military facilities; 255 surface-to-air missiles, radar systems or storage sites, and 600 tanks and other military vehicles, artillery pieces or rocket launchers. It had also struck more than 130 command-and-control sites and 750 ammunition stores.
However, Bracken said, success could not be measured by military targets and that the number hit was testimony to the size of the military machine Gaddafi had created.
Lungescu played down concerns about the long-term sustainability of the NATO mission highlighted by senior alliance officials who have failed so far to persuade more than eight member states to join the strike missions. “We can sustain this operation as long as we choose," she said. "We are fully confident we have the resources, we have the commitment it takes, and time is not on Gaddafi's side."
Officials did not respond directly when asked how NATO intended to replace the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle which France has indicated will have to be withdrawn from the operation by autumn. Military analysts say the French carrier has been launching up to 40 per cent of the daily NATO strikes on Libya and there is no obvious replacement given US reluctance to be drawn back into a leading role in the conflict.