NATO was due Friday to formally declare an end to its seven-month mission in Libya despite calls from the country's new rulers for air patrols to continue until the end of the year.
|Libyans attend a celebration marking the Friday of Victory in Tripoli on October 28, 2011 a week after former strongman Moamer Kadhafi was captured and killed|
Alliance warplanes are expected to be grounded on Monday after flying more than 26,000 sorties and bombing almost 6,000 targets in an operation that helped a ragtag rebel force oust veteran ruler Moamer Kadhafi.
NATO ambassadors were meeting from 0800 GMT to confirm a preliminary decision to end the mission, one day after the UN Security Council unanimously voted to end the mandate that authorised military action in Libya.
Security Council resolution 2016 eased the arms embargo and ordered the end of the authorisation for a no-fly zone and action to protect civilians from 11:59 pm Libyan time (2159 GMT) on October 31.
The operation divided the United Nations, with Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa accusing NATO of breaching the mandate.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UN decision showed that the country had entered a "new era" but its interim leader, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, warned on Wednesday that Kadhafi loyalists still pose a threat.
The resolution, Hague said, "is another significant milestone towards a peaceful, democratic future for Libya."
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has offered to help the new Libyan regime reform the country's security sector, but the alliance has repeatedly ruled out sending troops on the ground.
An alliance official said some allies could offer to provide the NTC help in "air space management" and to control borders, but it would be outside the NATO umbrella.
Jalil's fears were heightened by reports that Kadhafi's former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, who fled Libya, had passed from Niger into Mali.
"We did hear, and more or less it is confirmed, that Abdullah Senussi has crossed into Niger," NTC vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga said on Thursday.
It was not known if Kadhafi's son and heir-apparent Seif al-Islam was with him. Seif was earlier reported to be hiding in Niger after his father was killed in Sirte on October 20.
NATO made a preliminary decision last week to end operations on October 31 after judging that civilians were essentially safe from attacks following Kadhafi's death and the fall of Sirte.
While NATO has steadfastly denied targetting Kadhafi during the campaign, it was an alliance air strike that hit his convoy as it fled Sirte, leading to his capture and controversial killing by NTC forces.
Facing global criticism over the killing, the NTC vowed on Thursday to bring Kadhafi's killers to justice in a sharp break with their previous insistence he was caught in the crossfire with his own loyalists.
A coalition led by the United States, France and Britain launched the first salvos in the air war on March 19, before handing over command of the mission to NATO on March 31.
Unlike other NATO operations, Europeans led the charge with France and Britain conducting the bulk of air strikes while the United States playing a quiet yet crucial role by providing intelligence and air-to-air refuelling.
NATO allies have hailed the mission a success, with no casualties on their side and few civilian deaths, but cash-strapped governments have been eager to bring their planes home and focus on the bigger war in Afghanistan.