March 25th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

NATO considers broader role in Libya

Paula Newton

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) - As NATO prepares to take over the Libya mission, alliance officials said Friday they are considering a broader role that goes beyond enforcement of a no-fly zone.

After days of acrimonious discussion, NATO officials hailed their decision to take command as swift and historic and vowed a "seamless" transition of leadership from the United States to NATO, which could happen as early as Sunday.

"In the course of a single week NATO allies have launched both the arms embargo and the no-fly zone operations," said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu. "This is a clear demonstration of the allies commitment to fulfill their obligations under the U.N. mandate and to show their resolve to do what it takes to protect the people of Libya."

But whether NATO will assume the role of protecting civilians on the ground - as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution - remains at issue. The operational heart of the mission could hinge on if and when to intervene with airstrikes when civilians appear to be at risk.

A decision on what NATO officials are calling "no-fly plus" could come as early as Sunday after a meeting of NATO ambassadors.

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