NATO says Gadhafi fighters continue to be threat

By Raf Casert

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 4:41 a.m. MDT

Niger Tuareg refugees rest after they fled Sirte and headed toward Misrata, Libya Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. The U.S. ambassador to Libya returned to Tripoli Wednesday to lead a newly reopened American Embassy in a post-Moammar Gadhafi era.

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — The general commanding NATO's mission in Libya said Thursday that isolated groups of forces loyal to ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi continue to be a threat to local people but are unable to coordinate their actions.

Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard said in a conference call with reporters that many Gadhafi forces are surrounded with no way out. On Wednesday, NATO's decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, granted approval to extend the mission for another 90 days. Without an extension, permission for the operation would have expired Sept. 27.

"We are now at a point where I can only urge regime forces to surrender, to bring an end to these activities," Bouchard said.

Despite their isolation, the general said, forces loyal to former strongman Moammar Gadhafi "are still dangerous ... and violence against the population continues."

Bouchard said that the NATO mission "is not over by any means." Gadhafi remains at large and Bouchard said he had no idea where he was hiding. His supporters remain well- armed and fighting is still raging on three fronts in Gadhafi's base in Sirte, the desert town of Bani Walid and the southern area of Sabha.

Government forces this week have made inroads against Gadhafi loyalists in Sabha, the last major city on a key road leading south to the border with Niger.

"Well, I don't think there are too many places left in Libya for regime forces to go," Bouchard said. "The (Gadhafi) forces are no longer capable of coordinated action anywhere in the country ... What we are now witnessing is tactical, very localized action."

That is a reason for NATO to stay and protect the local population, he said.

Libya's new rulers insist the holdouts in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and Sabha are die-hard supporters, including many who escaped Tripoli, and believe they have no choice but to resist or face war-crimes charges.

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