Panetta Lauds NATO, Partners for Libya Operation

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today commended all of the forces that have been involved in Libya as the NATO mission there nears completion.

"There's been a proposal to bring that mission to a close by the end of this month, with probably a two-week transition period to take place," the secretary told reporters traveling with him to Indonesia on the first leg of a three-nation overseas trip.

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the alliance's supreme allied commander for Europe, made that recommendation to NATO leaders, Panetta said. "Obviously, we're awaiting NATO's final decision with regard to that recommendation," he added.

On his last overseas trip, Panetta said, he visited Naples, Italy, and observed the operations NATO developed to support the Libya mission.

"This has been a successful mission -- by NATO, by all of NATO's members, and by NATO's partners as well," he said. "This was not an easy effort. It involved a great deal of cooperation and partnership. Finally, Libya belongs to the Libyan people."

Humanitarian and security needs are an immediate issue in Libya, he noted. Many Libyans have been wounded in recent fighting, and the United States is working to assist in those immediate health care needs, Panetta said. Another concern, he added, is that weapons don't end up in the hands of extremists.

Panetta said the United States, NATO and Libya's Arab partners will help the country move forward.

"We're going to continue, obviously, on the diplomatic side, to assist them in every way possible, helping them develop the institutions of government that are necessary," he said.

Panetta will land in Indonesia tomorrow evening local time -- tomorrow morning in Washington -- and will visit Japan and South Korea later in the week.

[Source: By Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service, US Departament of Defense, 21Oct11]

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