NATO allies on Wednesday decided to extend their air campaign in Libya by another 90 days, as forces loyal to ousted strongman Moamer Kadhafi maintain resistance.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said warplanes would stay in the air as long as Libyan civilians are under threat but the mission will be under constant review and could be called off "at any time."
"We are determined to continue our mission for as long as necessary, but ready to terminate the operation as soon as possible," Rasmussen said, calling the extension a "technical rollover" of a mission that has lasted six months.
Any decision to end the air strikes will be taken in coordination with the United Nations and "in line with the will of the Libyan authorities," he said.
"This decision sends a clear message to the Libyan people. We will be there for as long as necessary, but not a day longer, while you take your future in your hands to ensure a safe transition to the new Libya."
The new mandate was accepted "without any disagreements," a NATO diplomat said, adding that NATO military authorities would provide an update on the situation on the ground every month.
The current 90-day mandate was due to expire on September 27.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
The UN Security Council unanimously agreed last week to maintain the no-fly zone which has been used to justify NATO air strikes against Kadhafi targets.
"So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue," US President Barack Obama said Tuesday at a United Nations meeting on Libya welcoming the country's new leadership.
Libya's National Transitional Council took control of Tripoli last month, but Kadhafi forces still control some towns, putting up a fierce resistance in the deposed despot's hometown of Sirte after seven months of fighting.
The new rulers declared victory in the battle for the key southern desert city of Sabha on Wednesday.
But anti-Kadhafi forces have taken heavy losses in the battle for Sirte. Medics say at least 45 NTC fighters have been killed and more than 200 wounded since they launched an offensive last week.
A coalition led by the United States, France and Britain launched the first air strikes against Kadhafi forces on March 19.
NATO took over the mission on March 31.
Only seven nations from the 28-nation alliance are taking part in the air strikes -- the United States, France, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy and Belgium. Norway's bombers dropped out of the mission in August.
NATO aircraft have conducted 8,751 missions aimed at idenfifying or hitting targets, according to the alliance's latest figures.