NATO vows to keep bombing Gadhafi forces in Libya

By the Associated Press | July 13, 2011 | 7:14 AM EDT

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO will continue its bombing campaign in Libya as long as Moammar Gadhafi's forces remain an active threat to civilians, the alliance told visiting Libyan rebels on Wednesday.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Gadhafi's regime "has lost all legitimacy," and that a political solution must be found to end the war.

"Gadhafi's forces are still threatening innocent people," Fogh Rasmussen said after meeting with representatives of Libya's National Transitional Council. "And as long as that threat continues, we must continue to deal with it."

The Libyan delegation, headed by the rebels' diplomatic chief Mahmoud Jibril, briefed NATO's governing body about the progress of the war.

Protests broke out against the Libyan leader's 42-year rule in March, leading to a fierce government crackdown against dissenters. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing force to protect the lives of civilians, and a U.S.-led international coalition began air strikes in mid-March against Gadhafi's military sites.

When NATO assumed command of the operation March 31, the alliance expected that a sudden, sharp blow would quickly persuade Gadhafi to give up power. But while the bombing campaign has managed to halt Gadhafi's forces and prevent the fall of opposition-held cities like Benghazi and Misrata, it has not been able to dislodge his regime.

The rebels have been seeking more close air support to open the way for an advance on Tripoli, the capital.

The visiting Libyan delegation is also meeting with top European Union officials, including Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.

In May, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton extended de-facto recognition to the transitional council by opening a diplomatic office in Benghazi and pledging support for a democratic Libya.