Clinton Says Reports of Qaddafi's Death Would Be 'Sigh of Relief' for Libya

Published October 20, 2011

| FoxNews.com

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Fox News on Thursday that it will be a big "sigh of relief" for the Libyan people if strongman Muammar Qaddafi has been killed, as Libya's Transitional National Council claims. 

Clinton and other U.S. officials could not confirm definitively whether Qaddafi had been killed. But media reports say he died of wounds suffered during his capture near his hometown of Sirte. 

Clinton said Qaddafi wanted to wage a guerilla war with Libyan money -- though despite Thursday's developments, the Libyan people still have a steep climb ahead. 

Clinton, who was in Afghanistan Thursday as part of an overseas tour, said earlier in the week in Libya that she hoped Qaddafi would be caught. 

"We hope he can be captured or killed soon so that you don't have to fear him any longer," Clinton told students and others at a town hall-style gathering in the capital.

In Afghanistan, Clinton also called for a new, three-way partnership between the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight insurgents and bring back into society those fighters willing to accept clear guidelines.

Outlining a fresh "fight, talk, build" strategy at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Clinton said it was imperative for the three nations to cooperate to end the war in Afghanistan. Clinton said she would bring her message next to Pakistan, where she will lead a delegation of Obama administration officials in talks with Pakistani leaders. Ties between the two countries have been strained over counterterrorism issues.

Clinton said she would emphasize the urgency of the new strategy to officials in Pakistan. She also underscored continuing U.S. support for Karzai's flagging reconciliation efforts.

Karzai has grown leery of the reconciliation effort and has also said that Pakistan must do more to control the militant networks that find safe haven in the neighboring country and use it as a staging ground for operations that challenge his government's efforts to rebuild after a decade of fighting against the Taliban.

The diplomatic push comes in tandem with the military operations, which have increasingly focused on eastern Afghanistan. The area has seen an uptick in NATO and Afghan operations after an earlier focus on the Taliban's traditional strongholds in the country's south forced the insurgents to shift their efforts to other, often quieter, regions.

NATO and Afghan forces have killed at least 115 insurgents over the past week as part of an ongoing operation in a northeastern Afghanistan province, the coalition said Thursday, as it looks to curb insurgent activity along the border with neighboring Pakistan.

The fighting in Kunar province, known for its rugged terrain that leaves coalition supply lines from Pakistan vulnerable to insurgent attacks, comes as NATO is stepping up efforts to secure the country and ready Afghan forces to fully take over security responsibilities before international forces wind down their combat mission in 2014.

NATO said the operation has been going on since around Oct. 15 and has included the use of fighter jets and long-range bombers. The alliance said that one NATO service member has been killed since the fighting began. It was not immediately clear if any Afghan troops had been killed.

"This is a series of multiple, smaller operations that have a combined, larger impact," said Master Sgt. Nicholas Conner, a NATO spokesman at Bagram Air Field. "Most of the Kunar region is marked with isolated pockets of villages that (Afghan and NATO) forces focus on at the company level or smaller."

The border area with Pakistan has long been a source of concern for NATO and Afghan officials and forces. The region is rife with militant activity spearheaded by the Haqqani network, an Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked movement that operates out of Pakistan and has been blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.

Kunar falls outside of that insurgent group's core area but has long been an Al Qaeda den, drawing in foreign fighters who pose as much of a risk to Afghanistan's future security as their Taliban allies.

A host of other groups also operate in the region, where the presence of coalition and Afghan forces has been far less concentrated. That, along with the disputed Durand Line, the 19th century demarcation between present day Afghanistan and Pakistan, has become fertile ground for increased conflicts that draw in not only NATO and Afghan forces, but also the Pakistani military.

With the militants sandwiched between two sets of militaries, their hit-and-run operations on both sides of the border have led to allegations by Afghans in the area that the Pakistani military has been firing hundreds of rockets into Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province. NATO and Pakistani officials have said the reports are exaggerated.

The Kunar operation's main focus is on cleansing the area of insurgent activity, said Conner, the NATO spokesman.

"The fact is, we target bad guys," he said. In tandem with NATO's Afghan partners, "we go after them wherever they are; whoever they are."

"The aim is to create the conditions for a stable and peaceful region where the Afghan government is connected to the Afghan people and vice versa," he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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