NATO 'prevented a massacre' in Libya: Rasmussen
NATO has "prevented a massacre" in Libya and will maintain military pressure on Moamer Kadhafi to pave the way for a political solution, the head of the alliance said on Thursday.
"Our operation (in Libya) has the political and military support of many countries in the region," Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a speech to Spain's Senate.
"Together, we have prevented a massacre. We have saved countless lives.
"We have seriously degraded the ability of the Kadhafi regime to attack civilians. We have opened air and sea access for humanitarian assistance. And we have closed it to arms and mercenaries," he added.
NATO has carried out nearly three months of air strikes against Kadhafi's forces in support of the uprising against his regime.
"Our message to the people of Libya is clear. We will protect you for as long as necessary. Our message to the Kadhafi regime is clear. Your time is up. You must go," the former Danish prime minister said.
"And our message to the international community is clear. We will keep up the military pressure, in strict conformity with our mandate, to pave the way for a speedy political solution in Libya."
Signs of strain have emerged recently in the NATO effort as Kadhafi digs in his heels.
Outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday admonished NATO allies, saying shrinking military budgets put both the Libya mission and the alliance's future at risk.
On Tuesday, senior brass from Britain and France, key players in the Libya campaign, publicly worried about how to maintain an operation just extended a further three months from June 27.
Rasmussen also voiced concern about "the low level of defence spending, especially in Europe, and called for a system of 'Smart Defence', which "means doing together what we cannot do alone."
He said the international community now needs to start planning for when Kadhafi is ousted, and NATO could help with this.
"Once the crisis is over, it will be necessary to reform the military and security sectors. NATO has extensive experience in this field. We should stand ready to respond to any calls for help. And that support should be available to other countries in the region too."
The NATO chief earlier held talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
"Both agreed that military, political and economic pressure must be maintained" on Kadhafi "and backed the Transitional National Council, which is helping to foster the emergence of a united Libya," a statement from Zapatero's office said.
© 2011 AFP