The mandate for NATO's Operation Unified Protector to safeguard the civilian population in Libya has been extended by a further 90 days, following a 21 September agreement by the North Atlantic Council.

While the decision means that coalition militaries have approval to continue operations until late December, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed that the alliance's involvement could end more quickly.

"We are determined to continue our mission for as long as necessary, but ready to terminate the operation as soon as possible," he said. "We will do this in coordination with the United Nations, and in line with the will of the Libyan authorities."

According to NATO's latest operational update, allied aircraft had flown almost 23,500 sorties since it assumed sole command of the Libyan operation on 31 March. Of these, almost 8,800 have been categorised as activities to identify or engage targets loyal to the regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi.

Some 124 sorties and 44 strikes were logged on 21 September, it said, with activity listed in the vicinities of Hun and Sirte. Targets included surface-to-air missile systems, anti-aircraft guns, command and control infrastructure and a vehicle storage depot.

Source: Flight International