Press briefing

by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu, Brigadier General Pierre St-Amand, Canadian Air Force and General Massimo Panizzi, spokesperson of the Chairman of the Military Committee

  • 23 Mar. 2011
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  • Last updated: 23 Mar. 2011 17:37

As you can imagine, this has been a busy week for NATO. In the Middle East, events have developed fast and dramatically. While in Afghanstan we’ve seen an important New Year resolution which takes the country a step closer to a stable and secure future.

I want to address Afghanistan first. Yesterday, during his speech to mark the Afghan New Year, President Karzai announced the first Provinces and Districts to undergo transition to Afghan lead. The decision was warmly welcomed by the Secretary General. This decision follows months of joint consultation and planning -- it’s based on the careful assessments and the judgement of key Afghan and international stakeholders.

As the Secretary General made clear yesterday, transition represents the next stage in Afghanistan’s journey to self-reliance, not the destination. Every step of the way will be determined by conditions on the ground. And for Allies and Partners it’s vital to maintain solidarity and continuity -- to ensure that transition is irreversible, and that we gradually transfer our troops from combat roles to training and support.

On a second point -- I can confirm that the NATO crisis management exercise CMX 2011 – which had been scheduled to start today and last until March 30th – has now  been postponed. However, this is an important part of what we do at  NATO, so the exercise will be held later this year. We’ll announce the date in due course.

Third point – North Africa and the Middle East. Over the past weeks, NATO civilian and military leadership have been consulting closely as the crisis in Libya unfolded. Of course, these consultations intensified after the UN Security Council passed resolution 1973,  5 days ago. 

NATO has now conducted all the necessary military planning for all eventualities.

  • a humanitarian assistance mission;
  • operations to enforce the arms embargo on Libya, and;
  • operations to enforce a no-fly zone.

All three plans have now been approved by the North Atlantic Council. NATO is ready to act, if and when required.

First, regarding the no-fly zone. Allies are continuing to consult today on whether to execute the agreed plan and how to define a possible NATO role in enforcing the UN mandated no-fly zone. No decision has been taken.  

But NATO is already playing its part in fulfilling the UN mandate to stop the violence against Libyan civilians. We have agreed to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against the Libyan regime – operation Unified Protector. Admiral Stavridis, NATO’s top operational commander, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is now activating NATO ships and aircraft in the Central Mediterranean to enforce this embargo.

Two weeks weeks ago NATO’s military leadership established round the clock airborne surveillance and ordered the repositioning of NATO vessels from the Western to the Central Mediterranean.

Now, these ships and aircraft will soon start conducting operations to monitor, report and if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries. This operation will be done in close coordination with commercial shipping and regional organisations. It will be a NATO-led operation, but as ever the Alliance will welcome contributions from our partners.
In order to explain some of the military details and to outline how we will enforce this embargo, I am joined by the Director of the Strategic Plans in the Capability Plans and Policy Branch at Allied Command Operations, Brigadier General Pierre St-Amand of the Canadian Air Force and by General Massimo Panizzi, spokesperson of the Chairman of the Military Committee, who as you know is the top military authority in NATO.

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Brigadier.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND (Canadian Armed Force; Director of the Strategic Plans, Capability Plans and Policy Branch, Allied Command Operations): Good afternoon and thank you very much. This afternoon I will comment on three topics for your information. The first will be a quick talk about planning efforts for the support of the arms embargo and I will then briefly describe the chain of command for the operation, and finally will provide a broad description of how an arms embargo is conducted.

We have, of course, at this time completed the planning and the operation is now under way. Planning was conducted on the basis of a UN Security Council Resolution 1970 and 1973, with an aim to contribute to the International Communities Enforcement Action, mounting a sustained and robust maritime operation to interdict and divert to designated locations, including ports, vessels transiting to and from Libya, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect they are carrying cargo in violation of the arms embargo.

Based on UNSCR 1973 armed force may be used by NATO Forces to enforce the arms embargo, including during boardings and diversions. The extent to which force will be used will remain a matter of the on scene commander.

As for the chain of command for this operation, political direction has been provided by the North Atlantic Council to the SACEUR. The chain of command will be from SACEUR to the Commander of Joint Forces Command Naples and then to the Commander of Maritime Command Naples, Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri of the Italian navy.

In very broad terms the capabilities required to conduct an arms embargo in the high seas consists of naval and air command and control assets, surface and subsurface naval assets, boarding capabilities, sustainment ships, maritime patrol air craft and other monitoring and enabling capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and AWACS.

So how do you conduct an arms embargo? Currently, as an interim solution, the operation will be carried out using ships from NATO Standing Naval Maritime Group 1 and a NATO Standing Naval Mine Countermeasures Group 1. These ships will be augmented and replaced by expected contributions from NATO allies and potentially partner nations over the next several days.

A typical engagement within the area of responsibility would be for a NATO ship to intercept the vessel of interest, with a view to confirm compliance with the arms embargo. The first action would consist of initiating communications with the vessel, or hailing in naval terms, to a certain compliance and coordinate boarding. At this point we have sufficient rules of engagement to allow up to an including a post boarding, if necessary, but the end result of the interception would have a NATO boarding team on the vessel conducting an inspection of the personnel and cargo.

If after inspection doubts remain as to the legitimacy of the cargo, the vessel will be diverted to a designated port for further inspection.

This sums up, pretty much, the broad description of the operation as planned, and I'm ready for any questions. Thank you.

Q: What's your name, sir?


Q: How do you spell that?

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, Brigadier General. We'll have 20 minutes to take your questions, so...

Q: Martin (inaudible...), Deutsche Zeitung. You said they have a planning for the no-fly zone. Do we have also plans to... what are you going to do with attacks on special aims, like the French are doing now, aims like, you know, tank groups or something like this? Is there any planning from NATO already, or is there not?

OANA LUNGESCU: Martin, those plans are based on the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Consultation on activating those plans is currently ongoing among all 28 allies. There would have to be consensus at 28 to activate that plan, and as you know, we don't detail or describe or disclose plans, we discuss operations once they're launched.

Q: Is there some kind of (inaudible) schedule for that?

OANA LUNGESCU: I can tell you that discussions are continuing at NATO in a positive spirit.

Q: I want to just follow-up on Martin. I'm Kai from German Television ZDF. Is it possible for you that there are two leading commands, let's say NATO and the French on the other side? As far as I know NATO has just... of the no-fly zone, not about bombing actual on the ground. So this would be completely new for NATO, and on the other hand the French would not like to give up their leading role, so do you think there could be a combination of both?

OANA LUNGESCU: Those are excellent questions, Kai. Right now they are hypothetical questions and I think I can't go any more than what I've already said, so I would welcome questions to the Brigadier General and to the General here, who can answer all sorts of questions about Operation Unified Protector, which has just been launched, or if you have any questions about how the NATO chain of command actually works.

Q: (Inaudible...) Polish Radio. Just to clarify some things. Once the ambassadors approve the plans so how does it work now? Now the member states should present their offers in the coming days, and then the ambassadors will approve unanimously? And how about the controlling of the mission? Once the decision is taken by the NATO allies will the decision be also taken concerning who is in command of the operation in Libya?

OANA LUNGESCU: If you're talking about the plan to enforce the no-fly zone, the operation plan has been approved, but there is no execution directive for that plan. That is currently being discussed by all 28 allies.

What the North Atlantic Council did yesterday was to give the go-ahead for Operation Unified Protector, the enforcement of the arms embargo that we've just described here. And Brigadier, maybe you can go into details about how forces are generated for that operation and where you are right now.

UNIDENTIFIED: Oana, excuse me... I'm from RP. There is a vacancy room available next if you want.

OANA LUNGESCU: That's very kind, (inaudible), but I think we only have 16 minutes now, so I think we won't move right now.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Yes, thank you. Just to amplify, perhaps, the (inaudible) process. Once we have the North Atlantic Council approval of a concept of operations alongside this document there is what we call a statement of requirements, which is distributed to the nations. And at that point the nations make offers, and so that has occurred already.


Q: Sorry, to harp on about this, but can you just tell us whether the North Atlantic Council has given the military committees guidance in its planning—I'm sorry, Peter Spiegel, with the Financial Times—guidance in its planning for the no-fly zone, which you say is now completed, for a no-drive zone? Is the planning thus far that's been completed just to stop aircraft over Libya, or has the North Atlantic Council given military guidance for something beyond that?

OANA LUNGESCU: General, or (inaudible...).

GENERAL MASSIMO PANIZZI (Spokesperson, Chairman of the Military Committee): The Military Committee complete... and SHAPE, complete the planning phase, then that approved for strictly NATO... sorry, no-fly zone, which is to interdict any aerial defence from the, I would say adversary. That's all.

Q: (Inaudible...), it's working? Yes, (inaudible), Berliner Zeitung Germany. How many nations do you expect to contribute to the naval mission, with how many vessels, and do you expect any contribution from the Turkish side? And another question, will there be any German soldiers that would be implied in the command structure of the naval mission?

OANA LUNGESCU: I will give a first answer, and then the Brigadier General can continue. Obviously these are national decisions. Operation Unified Protector is still in a transition phase, but I understand that several nations have come forward with pledges and they're quite confident about the operation. But the Brigadier General can give more details.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: So this is a very dynamic situation, so as of now I can confirm that we have offers for up to 16 vessels...

Q: Sixteen?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Sixteen. One-six. One command and control ship, ten frigates, three submarines and two auxiliary ships, amongst other things.

Q: Can you repeat, please?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: So one command and control ship, ten frigates, three submarines, two auxiliary ships and that's it.

Q: Which nations?

Q: Which countries?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Yes, sure. What I have as of now is one command and control ship from Italy. Ten frigates, one from Canada, Spain, United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, the U.S., four from Turkey. And three submarines; Spain, Italy and Turkey.

The two auxiliary ships come from Italy and Turkey.

Q: (Inaudible) the submarines?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: You want me to start from zero?

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes, do that.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: I will go slow. Okay, so one command and control ship from Italy. Ten frigates. One from Canada, one from Spain, one from the United Kingdom, one from Greece, one from Italy, one from United States and four from Turkey. Three submarines. One from Spain, one from Italy, one from Turkey. And two auxiliary ships, one's from Italy, and one from Turkey.

Q: Any German (inaudible...).

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: I have no information as to that detail.

Q: Thank you. Thank you. Anna Pisigniero(ph) from the Spanish News Agency. Just to clarify, because you've just mentioned the two standing maritime groups from NATO or one from mines one, so we understand that we have up to nine ships in these two formations, so these contributions that you just spelled out, will they be added to these extra nine ships or the idea is that these contributions will substitute the up to nine or how will that work?

And then on the air capabilities for enforcing the arms embargo, will we just depend on the five AWACS that are now there, or will we have an increase of air support for this?

And I'm sorry, very quickly, on the command, I'm not sure I understood too well. I understand that then the naval... the enforcing embargo will be under command of (inaudible), and then the ground command is in Naples. Is that right?

Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: General Panizzi.

GENERAL MASSIMO PANIZZI: Before I enter into the case, I mean, the chain of command is Brigadier and what we put in command and control...

Q: Sir...

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, we'll have to wait. Let's wait... yeah. We need the unified chain of command here, I think (inaudible...).


UNIDENTIFIED: La démonstration par l'exemple à mon avis...

OANA LUNGESCU: This is how the press works.

GENERAL MASSIMO PANIZZI: May I? The command and control structure is, I think, pretty clear. The SACEUR is the overall commander, operational commander, and they delegate the operational commands to the Joint Force Command in Naples, Admiral Locklear. Which delegating the operational command of the maritime component to Admiral Veri from Italy. That is the structure, the overall structure.

After it you have on the sea the task force, maritime component. Pierre.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Yes, okay, so sticking to naval assets.

Q: Just leave it there.

OANA LUNGESCU: Yeah, if you just leave it I think that probably is fine. I think people will need to... No, it's not fine. Okay.

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Okay, we're good. we're good for now. In terms of the naval assets contained within Maritime Group 1 and Countermeasures Group 1, I have a total of six assets currently.

As to the transition from those organizations, or those groups, into what's going to turn out to be the force package, the final force package for Unified Protector, that remains to be seen. It will very much be up to the commander on the ground to sort out, so those are details that are not available at this time.

OANA LUNGESCU: And on air assets, I think...

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Yes, on the air assets, yes, there have been quite a bit of offers with respect to air assets, but I do not have the detail.

Q: When are you going to start the operation and could you please send us a memo with all these details, like the operational detail (inaudible...)?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: Okay, the operation is ongoing now.

Q: Now, any ship coming to (inaudible) right now?

BRIGADIER GENERAL PIERRE ST-AMAND: The actual implementation or activity on the high seas, I do not have the detail about that, but we have the orders to conduct the operation as of last night. So from that point of view the operation is ongoing now.

Q: (Inaudible...)... sorry.

OANA LUNGESCU: I can just tell you, for those of you that may want to go to Naples tomorrow there will be a press conference at 10:30 at Allied Maritime Command. It will be conducted by Allied Maritime Command in Naples by Admiral Rinaldo Veri from the Italian navy, who will hold a news conference on the NATO-led embargo operations in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. So we will circulate those details after the press conference.


Q: My name is Martinez de Rituerto with El País. One question. This is only for arms and the mercenaries. The international community is eager to stifle the regime through economic means, mainly the exports of oil and gas. You have nothing to do with oil and gas.

OANA LUNGESCU: This is to cut off the flow of arms and armed mercenaries to the Gaddafi regime. We know that the Libyan regime has a track record of acquiring weapons and hiring mercenaries. We also have intelligence reports that this activity is continuing. So it is quite important that NATO now takes action to stop this as part of broad international community efforts to stop the violence against the people of Libya.


Q: Vanessa Mock, the Independent and Feature Story News. I don't quite understand about the arms embargo because I thought it was a kind of open secret that most of the arms were being brought in overland, that actually in terms of coastal activities, there was very little going on because already the regime had anticipated this operation.

Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, obviously the easiest route is actually over sea rather than through the Sahara Desert, but as you know, the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 asks for all UN member states to implement that resolution so we hope and trust that all of Libya's neighbours will also enforce that resolution. But NATO is now moving to shut the easiest and closest route.

Q: Oana, (inaudible...).

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, sorry. We'll have one there, and then we'll go to Nawab behind the camera.

Q: Fukushima from Mainichi News. Once plan of the no-fly zone will be activated... executed, this air asset might be... who have been taking part in this arms embargo operation could be used also as asset for a no-fly zone?

OANA LUNGESCU: That's another excellent question. As I said, those consultations are ongoing today at NATO Headquarters. For the moment that remains a hypothetical question.


Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency KUNA. Will NATO call on non-NATO countries (inaudible...)?

OANA LUNGESCU: NATO certainly welcomes participation from partner countries to this maritime operation and air operation and the Secretary General in his message yesterday welcomed that explicitly and publicly.

Last question.

Q: (Inaudible...). Is there any comment, political comment these days from your boss concerning this very à la carte approach that the allies have had in (inaudible) operations in Libya? And what does that mean in terms of capacity, or rather lack of capacity of having a common perception of the political and security challenges that they face in that part of the world? Thanks.

OANA LUNGESCU: Obviously these are difficult discussions on very difficult issues, but what you are seeing now is all 28 allies discussing in a constructive spirit. They've already moved to take the first step in implementing the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 and I think that is important. NATO is united, NATO is taking action.

Thank you very much.