NATO’s commander for Libya has deflected suggestions that international air strikes against Muammar Qadhafi’s forces are essentially providing air cover for advancing rebels and insists that NATO’s mission is purely designed to protect civilians.

Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada told a news conference on Monday that the military alliance was in the process of taking over command from the U.S.—led operation after NATO’s 28 members agreed to the transition on Sunday.

The move effectively means NATO could bomb Col. Qadhafi’s forces if they are threatening to harm civilian populations. To date, international air strikes have crippled Col. Qadhafi’s forces, allowing rebels to advance from seemingly being at the brink of defeat.

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