NATO members agreed Thursday to take over enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya, but stopped short of interpreting that mandate as a license to attack government troops who may be threatening unarmed civilians.
"What we have decided today is that NATO will enforce the no-fly zone," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told CNN's Wolf Blitzer from the organization's headquarters in Brussels.
Under Thursday's agreement, NATO forces will be able to close air space to all flights except for humanitarian ones and will be able to use force in self-defense.
NATO also has sent a directive to its military chain of command asking for a plan on how to execute an expanded role for enforcement of U.N. Resolution 1973, according to NATO sources. Under what some officials were calling "no-fly plus," NATO would be given more robust rules of engagement to ensure that civilians are protected, the sources said.
And, in an effort to ease concerns from Turkey -- the organization's sole Muslim country -- coalition forces would be allowed to withdraw from certain missions, such as those involving attacking Libyan soldiers, the sources said.
As for the prospect of a more robust mandate, one that the U.S.-led coalition has followed so far, "That decision has not been made yet," Rasmussen said.
He added that NATO will have outside help in whatever mission it opts to pursue. "It's of utmost importance to stress that this is not primarily a NATO operation," he said. "It is a broad international effort in which we will include partners from the region that have pledged to contribute to this protection of civilians in Libya."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will travel to London to attend an international meeting on Libya on Tuesday, gave an upbeat assessment of what the coalition has accomplished in five days. "We have made significant progress," she told reporters. "A massacre in Benghazi was prevented. Gadhafi's air force and air defenses have been rendered largely ineffective, and the coalition is in control of the skies above Libya."
She welcomed the fact that the coalition includes aircraft and pilots from Qatar and Thursday's announcement by the United Arab Emirates that it, too, would send planes to protect Libya's civilians.
"In the days ahead, as NATO assumes command-and-control responsibilities, the welfare of those civilians will be of paramount concern," she said. "This operation has already saved many lives, but the danger is far from over."