Libya's interim government has sent NATO commanders still pictures and video imagery which "leave no doubt" of Muammar el-Qaddafi's death, a senior Western military official told National Journal.
The official said "other NATO assets" - an allusion to the Western intelligence operatives who have been on the ground in Libya for months aiding the rebels there - were en route to Surt to make final confirmation of the Libyan strongman's death.
From National Journal:
PICTURES Qaddafi Through the Years
SOCIAL MEDIASocial Media Flooded by Reports of Qaddafi's Death
REACTIONS Lawmakers React to Qaddafi's Death
The U.S. has yet to formally confirm Qaddafi's killing, a consequence of the Obama administration's deliberate decision to send far fewer civilian and intelligence operatives to Libya than other NATO countries. Britain, for instance, has kept several hundred paramilitary personnel deployed to Libya since the start of the uprising. Still, with key U.S. allies like the European Union already formally confirming Qaddafi's death, it is virtually certain that Washington will soon follow suit.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Pakistan on Thursday, said her department was still attempting to confirm the reports. “[We] can't confirm Qaddafi's capture or death but if it's true, it's a big sigh of relief," Clinton told reporters. "One more obstacle removed but we still have a steep climb ahead," Clinton added.
The exact circumstances of Qaddafi's killing - the most dramatic moment to date of the unrest stemming from the Arab Spring -- remain murky. Libya's interim government, as well as the senior Western military official, said that NATO warplanes struck an armored convoy which appeared to be attempting to flee Surt, Qaddafi's last remaining stronghold. The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that a U.S. Predator drone on a convoy carrying Qaddafi. A French warplane also struck the convoy, before Qaddafi was reportedly captured and killed Thursday.
The bombs stopped the trucks, which were quickly surrounded by rebel fighters, the Western military official said. Qaddafi and his guards were killed following a fierce firefight with the rebel troops, according to the country's interim government. It's not clear yet if the NATO warplanes belonged to the U.S. or if American drones - which have helped to track and kill other Qaddafi loyalists - had a role.
"We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Muammar el-Qaddafi has been killed," Libya's interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, told a news conference in the capital, Tripoli.
(ANALYSIS: What Happens in Libya Stays in Libya)
Moments after Jibril's news conference, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Qaddafi's death means "people in Libya today have an even greater chance after this news of building themselves a strong and democratic future," and that he was "proud" of the role his country played in the NATO air strikes to protect civilians during the uprising. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Qaddafi’s death marks a “historic transition” for Libya.
Jibril said the council planned to announce an end to the conflict and the liberation of Libya either later Thursday or on Friday. Such a declaration would enable the war-torn country to begin a transition to democracy after Qaddafi's four-decade rule.
The confirmation of the longtime Libyan strongman's death marks the beginning of a new, and potentially dangerous, phase of Libya's transition to its post-Qaddafi future. Jibril enjoys warm ties with Western governments like the U.S., which dispatched Clinton to Tripoli earlier this week in a show of support. But Jibril is unpopular with many Libyans, and divisions are already emerging between the armed groups of fighters from different parts of Libya which had ultimately converged in a fragile alliance to topple Qaddafi.
Western military officials are increasingly worried that such divisions will make it hard for Jibril's government to assert control over the fractious country or build new security forces whose loyalties will be to Libya's interim government rather than to their hometowns, regions or tribes.
For the moment, though, the eyes of the region were riveted on the television imagery from Surt, where al Jazeera and other Arabic satellite news channels showed Qaddafi's corpse, a bloody wound visible on the side of his head. Jubilant rebels were seen waving Libya's pre-Qaddafi flag in Surt and Tripoli and firing their guns into the air in celebration.
NATO said on Thursday that it will convene a special session to determine if the air campaign in Libya should continue. On Tuesday, NATO spokesman Carmen Romero said the alliance was “very close to the end” of the seven-month military operation.
Sara Sorcher contributed.