NATO is extending its military campaign in Libya for an additional 90 days.
Ambassadors from the strategic alliance’s 28 member states, as well as representatives from five non-NATO nations participating in the campaign, agreed unanimously Wednesday to extend the mission into at least September.
The United States, France, and Britain had originally led the U.N.-mandated mission, but NATO forces took over at the end of March. At that time, the alliance authorized operations to enforce a no-fly zone and use airstrikes to protect civilians for an initial 90-day period that would have expired June 27.
“This decision sends a clear message to the Qaddafi regime: We are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels, according to the Associated Press.
The BBC, meanwhile, reports that some nations that initially supported the mission are now alarmed at what they consider a shift from protecting civilians to ending Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
The extension comes on the heels of South African President Jacob Zuma’s attempt to broker a deal between the Libyan strongman and rebel leaders who are seeking his ouster. However, no deal seemed within reach following a meeting between the two men on Monday, as Qaddafi remained steadfast in his opposition to relinquishing power.
In recent days a number of key defections have raised questions about the internal strength of Qaddafi's government. Eight army officials, including four generals, said Monday that they were joining a group of about 120 military officials and soldiers who were defecting from Gaddafi’s forces, according to CBS News.
Fathi Baja, the rebels’ foreign minister, said they are preparing to strike against Qaddafi soon, believing that the defections leave him vulnerable, especially when paired with NATO attacks and intensified calls for him to step down.
A defecting officer identified as Gen. Oun Ali Ou told reporters, “What is happening to our people has frightened us. … There is a lot of killing, genocide … violence against women. No wise, rational person with the minimum of dignity can do what we saw with our eyes and what he asked us to do.”