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NATO's Libya intervention ends Monday

If you were planning on going as "French Rafale pilot flying sorties over Libya" for Halloween this year, you're still in luck -- the intervention will run until midnight Monday before it turns into a pumpkin.

Then, if all goes as planned, November will dawn with no allied warplanes over North Africa and relative peace on the ground, leaving the rest of us to figure out what it all meant.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen doesn't need much time to reach his conclusions: In a statement, he said the Libya intervention went exactly as planned:

We have fully complied with the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya, to enforce the no-fly zone and the arms embargo. Operation Unified Protector is one of the most successful in NATO history.

We launched this complex operation faster than ever before.  We conducted it effectively, flexibly and precisely with many partners from the region and beyond. And we are concluding it in a considered and controlled manner -- because our military job is now done. I want to thank our commanders and our  servicemen and women, for conducting this mission so well, so carefully and with such dedication.

We have done this together for the people of Libya. So they can take their future firmly and safely into their own hands. Libyans have now liberated their country. And they have transformed the region. This is their victory.

There were times, however, when the outcome did not seem certain. Remember when military officials in the United States and Europe were shrugging about how long it might take for the Libyan rebel alliance to gain enough strength to actually threaten the government? Remember when the European allies were running out of bombs to drop? Remember when Secretary Gates basically said, you guys are the most powerful military alliance in the world -- why can't you take care of a fifth-rate cartoon villain?

Remember how differently the U.S. and European militaries viewed the Libyan operation? For the U.S. Air Force especially, it was a weekend turkey shoot -- even North America-based B-1 and B-2 bombers got into the act flying sorties over Libya because, why not, right? The Marines' attacks with their AV-8B Harriers means they now have a great new PowerPoint slide about the value of sea-based fast-jets, just in case anyone gets skeptical of their F-35B.

For the NATO allies, however, it wasn't always a party. The U.K.'s Royal Air Force Tornados flew the equivalent of two years' worth of home-station training, according to an RAF announcement -- a big chomp into those planes' finite lifespan. The French and Italian aircraft carriers played for a little while, but they did not seem to make much of an impression. And important NATO allies, especially Germany, just did not show up for any of it.

Maybe this is the wrong perspective, though. All's well that ends well, right? NATO got together relatively quickly, executed an effective air war with almost no notice, stayed mostly united and ultimately helped the Libyan people win their freedom. It's nothing like the World War III against the Soviets the alliance was built to fight, but maybe it's not so bad, either.

What do you think? Did Libya expose the dangerous fissures and weaknesses of NATO? Or does Libya vindicate alliance supporters' belief that NATO can continue to be effective and relevant in the world of the 21st century?

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