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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper comments on the death of long-time Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday Oct. 20, 2011.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper's first war victory was clinched in a few sudden hours when Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed and his last bastion of Sirte fell.

Although Mr. Harper has led a nation with forces in combat since he took office in 2006, this was not a war he inherited but one he chose, early, foreshadowing conflict by dispatching a warship to the Mediterranean three weeks before NATO bombs first struck Libya.

Canadian CF-18s didn't take part in the last air strikes in Sirte that punctuated the dictator's end, according to a source. But after they flew hundreds of bombing sorties in Libya over seven months, Thursday marked a crisp end to the Canadian military mission, in simple-to-understand terms.

With it come political spoils: Mr. Harper can now expect some vindication in public opinion for his arguments for a muscular Canada, with military assets and the will to deploy them.

But victory, in a short campaign without boots on the ground, could also define the limits. Just hours after Col. Gadhafi's death was confirmed, Mr. Harper stood in the foyer of the Commons to express satisfaction at the end of a dictator, and also to make clear that this Canadian mission will conclude quickly, in "coming days."

"Gadhafi's days are over," he said. "Never again will he be in a position to support terrorism or to turn guns on his own citizens. The Libyan people can finally turn the page on 42 years of vicious oppression and continue their journey toward a better future."

He expressed pride in the "prominent" role of the Canadian Forces and the NATO mission's Canadian commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, then said the mission is ending. "Our government shall be speaking with our allies to prepare for the end of our military mission in the next few days," he said.

Within two weeks, government officials said, the Canadian contribution to the NATO mission, with more than 600 personnel, will be wrapped up. The seven CF-18 fighters, which flew 942 sorties, 10 per cent of NATO strike missions, will come home, as will the HMCS Vancouver. A handful of troops will likely stay in Tripoli as embassy security in chaotic times, a source said.

The questions that remain, about whether Libya's National Transitional Council can unify factions and stabilize the country, won't be answered on the West's military watch. Like Canada, NATO allies, after years of unconcluded war and nation-building in Afghanistan, also signalled a desire for a quick end to military operations in Libya.

That country's future, and Canada's efforts to help stabilize and rebuild it, could still colour public perception of the military mission years from now. "The hard part starts now," interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said.

But Mr. Harper's stay-the-course approach, in months when the conflict appeared to settle into stalemate and some other allies balked, will probably win him some political credit after a dramatic day in Sirte, said Roland Paris, the research chair in international security at the University of Ottawa.

"It was a gamble, because nobody knew how the NATO mission would turn out. That gamble has paid off, and he deserves part of the credit," Mr. Paris said.

In Canada, it was the NDP, under the late Jack Layton, which first pushed for a no-fly zone, but the party, worried NATO would drift into fighting in a civil war, later set a deadline. In September, the party's MPs voted against a second extension, and on the day Col. Gadhafi died, they were left to defend it: "We can't say that the Libyans wouldn't have been able to find Gadhafi if NATO hadn't been there," NDP MP Hélène Laverdière said.

But Mr. Harper, slow to embrace the first Arab Spring rebellions, was forceful in responding to Col. Gadhafi's repression: He dispatched a frigate March 1, weeks before intervention was certain, sent a pointed Canadian force when only eight allies joined strikes and committed to stay through months of stalemate.

Mr. Harper's argument that Canada needs military power and the willingness to deploy it could be boosted by victory in Libya, said Christian Leuprecht, a Queen's University and Royal Military College professor.

But it might also crystallize the Libya mission model – brief, conducted by air strikes with no ground troops risking casualties, as the muscle Canadians will support. "We're not going to be doing an Afghanistan mission again, the kind of long-term massive troop commitments," he said. "I think they're going to be elements like this where we might be there for a few weeks or a few months."