NATO said Tuesday it is considering ending its bombing campaign in Libya but the decision must consider the threat pro-Moammar Gadhafi fighters still pose to civilians.
Some have speculated that the North Atlantic Council, NATO's top decision-making body, will declare an end to the 7-month-old Libyan operation when it meets Wednesday.
But a diplomat said France and Britain have insisted that the bombing campaign continue until Libya's new authorities are able to assume responsibility for security nationwide. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the matter.
"We are very close to the end, but there are still threats to the civilian population," NATO spokesman Carmen Romero said Tuesday.
NATO warplanes have flown more than 9,500 strike sorties since the air attacks began March 19. They were initially conducted by a U.S.-led coalition, including France and Britain, but were taken over by the alliance at the end of March.
Still, only eight of NATO's 28 states took part in the actual strikes. Some diplomats expressed frustration at what they saw as an unnecessary distraction from NATO's main mission _ the war in Afghanistan.
Western leaders initially expected the Libyan air campaign to last just a few weeks. But despite being constantly pummeled from the air, Gadhafi's forces demonstrated unexpected resilience, forcing the alliance to repeatedly extend the campaign.
With armed opposition to the new Libyan authorities now limited to only a few towns, the alliance has scaled back the airstrikes, conducting an average of 15 a day in comparison to about 70 to 80 a day at the height of the campaign this summer.
Romero said the decision on ending the operation will be taken after the North Atlantic Council conducts a "careful and comprehensive" political and military analysis of the security situation.
Follow Slobodan Lekic on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich