NATO, which has been bogged down for nearly 10 years in Afghanistan and more than 12 in Kosovo, is desperately seeking a mission it can end, quickly, cleanly and for good.
So at the top levels of the military alliance there is great eagerness to wrap up the Libyan air campaign as soon as possible, and great reluctance to get involved in nation-building or policing now that the country's former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, has fallen from power.
"We must end this Libyan business quickly," one senior military officer told The Associated Press. "We just cannot afford this proliferation of missions which just drag on and on. One needs to finally end."
Several other senior military officers expressed the same concern, saying NATO could not afford another longterm engagement at a time of deep cuts in defense budgets. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
NATO's leaders have been praised for the success of the bombing campaign in Libya, which enabled Gadhafi's opponents to oust his autocratic regime. It is cited as proof that the Cold War alliance remains relevant to international security.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the Libyan campaign demonstrated NATO's flexibility and strength.
"Our operation is not yet over, but the direction is clear," he said recently, adding that "in five months we have degraded a war machine which was built up over more than 40 years."
But NATO members are concerned that the Libyan operation is distracting the alliance from its main mission, the war in Afghanistan.
Fogh Rasmussen denies the campaign in Libya has affected the effort in Afghanistan, where levels of violence are near record highs and the Taliban have inflicted a series of high-profile blows to the Kabul government and international forces.
But he, too, has made it clear that any follow-up operation in Libya, such as assisting and training the new army and police, must be led by the United Nations rather than by NATO.
NATO warplanes have flown about 22,500 sorties, including nearly 8,500 strike missions, since the first strikes were launched in March.
The air campaign was intended to deliver a devastating military blow that would allow the opposition to oust Gadhafi's regime in a matter of weeks. But nearly six months later the conflict drags on, despite the fall of the capital.
European members and Canada provided most of the strike aircraft and flew the vast majority of sorties. But the war exposed shortages in Europe's capabilities in strategic transport, aerial surveillance and air refueling. These capabilities and other logistics support had to be supplied by the U.S.
The campaign also revealed rifts within the Western military alliance. Only eight of the 28 members participated, while the others stayed away _ mostly for fear of how the new mission would affect alliance's commitment to Afghanistan.
The 9/11 attacks 10 years ago prompted NATO to invoke for the first time in its history an article in its treaty stating that an attack against one member shall be considered an attack against all. After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban and al-Qaida, NATO began deploying troops. It assumed overall command of the war in 2006.
Some 130,000 NATO troops are currently in Afghanistan. Over 2,700 have died so far in the war.
The U.S. and NATO began transferring security responsibilities this year to newly trained Afghan forces with the aim of removing all their combat troops by the end of 2014.
But despite reports of progress on the battlefield, the number of U.S. troops dying this year is at about the same level as 2010.
On Saturday, a powerful Taliban truck bomb injured 77 American soldiers and killed five Afghans outside a combat outpost, provided another reminder that the 10-year war that shows no signs of slowing down. On Tuesday, Taliban insurgents staged a brazen attack in central Kabul, striking at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other buildings.
Brig. Gen. Massimo Pannizzi said NATO's Military Committee _ the alliance's top military body _ will discuss the situation in Afghanistan at its next meeting on Friday in Seville, Spain.
"They will share their views on the transition progress but also take a wider, more long-term look at NATO's future involvement, especially in the post-2014 era," Pannizzi said Tuesday.
Analysts say the escalating Taliban attacks demonstrate how crucial it is for NATO to remain focused on Afghanistan.
"In comparison to Libya, Afghanistan is vitally important for the alliance not just as its biggest operation ever, but because this is where the alliance's real credibility is on the line," said Brooks Tigner, NATO analyst for the London-based Jane's Defense Weekly.
"And that line is looking very shaky nowadays, with many signs pointing to a Taliban resurgence."
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