The Libyan operation demonstrates just how capable the Western alliance remains two decades after the end of the Cold War, its top military commander said Friday.
U.S. Adm. James Stavridis said Friday that the military effort was truly international and that, of the 40 generals and admirals in charge of the mission, only six were from the United States.
This is the first time in its history that NATO _ which has over 200 aircraft and dozens of ships patrolling the skies and seas off Libya, and 130,000 troops in Afghanistan _ has been engaged in two major conflicts at once.
"Unlike Afghanistan where the focus is on ground operations, in the Libyan operation (naval and air assets) are the kinds of platforms that step up," Stavridis said.
"It tells us how significant and capable this alliance is, to be able to take on challenges in very different parts of the world, in very different missions, with very different sets of forces," he said.
Some critics in the United States and Europe have questioned the continuing need for NATO, which was first set up to counter possible Soviet aggression after World War II. The Soviet Union dissolved 20 years ago, and today NATO and Russia cooperate closely in a number of fields, including in the Afghan war.
Washington wants NATO to be equipped to deploy forces on missions such as the one in Afghanistan or the anti-piracy naval patrols in the Indian Ocean. But many Europeans argue that the alliance should not be transformed into a global policeman at a time of sharp defense cuts.
Stavridis, who has ultimate responsibility for both wars, was speaking at the 60th anniversary of NATO's integrated command complex known as Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE).
SHAPE was set up by NATO's then-commander and later U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
NATO assumed full control this week from a U.S.-led international force over all aspects of the operation in Libya as authorized by U.N. resolutions that include an arms embargo, the no-fly zone, the protection of civilians humanitarian assistance, and coalition aircrafts have been pummeling Libyan military objectives.
NATO's top civilian leader, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has emphasized, however, that Afghanistan _ where the war against Taliban and other insurgents is in its 10th year _ remains the alliance's top priority.