WASHINGTON — U.S. officials already were focused on helping the new Libyan leaders build a stable government before word came Thursday that former dictator Moammar Gadhafi was dead, seven months after the U.S. and NATO began their bombing campaign in Libya.
The Transitional National Council informed the United States of Gadhafi's death shortly before Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril's announcement to his nation that the moment so many had waited for had come, a U.S. official said. The White House and State Department were expected to release official responses later Thursday.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of the few U.S. officials to react publicly to Gadhafi's death, hailing it as "an end to the first phase of the Libyan revolution." The U.S. and Europe "must now deepen our support of the Libyan people," McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
Initial reports from fighters said Gadhafi had been holed up with the last of his fighters in the furious battle with revolutionary fighters assaulting the last few buildings they held in his Mediterranean coastal hometown of Sirte. At one point, a convoy tried to flee the area and was blasted by NATO airstrikes, though it was not clear if Gadhafi was in one of the vehicles.
NATO forces have been engaged in a bombing campaign in Libya since March, under a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of military force to protect civilians from violence perpetrated by their own government. While the U.S. took the lead in the early days of the campaign, it has since played a secondary role to other NATO allies.
Even before Gadhafi's death, the U.S. moved swiftly to assist Libya's National Transitional Council, providing the rebel-led group with financial assistance. In July, the U.S., along with allies in Europe and the Middle East, recognized the NTC as Libya's official government. And last month, the U.S. ambassador to Libya returned to Tripoli to lead a newly reopened American Embassy in a post-Gadhafi era.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a surprise trip to Tripoli this week, and said she hoped Gadhafi would be killed or captured. Clinton offered about $11 million in additional aid to Libya, boosting Washington's contribution since the uprising against Gadhafi began in February to about $135 million.
The new aid package includes medical aid for wounded fighters and additional assistance to secure weaponry that many fear could fall into the hands of terrorists. Aides said the money is meant partly as a pledge to ongoing U.S. support during what will be a difficult passage to free elections and a new government after four decades of dictatorship.