ROME — NATO's chief said Thursday the alliance was ready to advise Libya's government on defense and security issues, saying the deteriorating situation in the country is posing new security threats for Europe that require a more robust defense.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also told a news conference in Rome that the alliance plans to bolster its surveillance of the region by using drones based at the air station in Sigonella, Sicily, starting next year.
NATO enforced a U.N. mandate to protect civilians and enforced no-fly zone and arms embargo on Libya during the 2011 ouster of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. The mission ended in October 2011, and the security situation has since spiraled out of control with two separate governments and multiple armed groups, including some affiliated with the Islamic State group.
Stoltenberg has said there should have been more international presence in Libya after the military operation ended, and pledged Thursday that NATO was available to help.
"NATO stands ready to support Libya with advice on defense and security institution building, as requested by the Libyan government," he said, repeating a pledge by NATO members at a September summit in Wales.
He cited the deteriorating situation in Libya, the Mideast and the conflict in Ukraine as evidence that NATO requires more robust defense spending than in the years after the end of the Cold War, when defense budgets were slashed.
"The world has changed. We have seen new threats and new challenges," he said.
On Ukraine, he called for all sides to respect the cease-fire and in particular for Russia to withdraw its heavy weaponry.
"Russia has transferred in recent months over 1,000 pieces of equipment, tanks, artillery and air defense systems. They have to withdraw this equipment and stop supporting the separatists," he said. "Any attempts to expand further the territory held by separatists would be a clear violation of the cease-fire. And it would be unacceptable to the international community."
Associated Press writer John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels contributed to this report.