Press briefing on events related to Libya

by LtGen Charles Bouchard, Commander of the NATO military operations in Libya and NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu

  • 28 Mar. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Mar. 2011 11:06


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's my pleasure to introduce Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of the Canadian Forces, Combined Joint Commander for NATO's Libya Response Operations, code name Operation Unified Protector. He is the Commander of NATO and non-NATO assigned (inaudible) forces, NATO's operations in Libya, which currently include enforcing the UN mandated arms embargo and no-fly zone.

Just before I turn over the podium to General Bouchard for a few remarks, I just want to check the VTC. Can we confirm that VTC's working? Brussels?

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Yes, absolutely. We can see you and we can hear you loud and clear.

UNIDENTIFIED: Okay, Oana, over to you, please.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, General Bouchard, for taking time out of work—We know he has a very busy operation—to brief media both here and at your Headquarters in Naples.

As you know by now, I think, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard is a Canadian air force helicopter pilot, who's held several senior command positions in his distinguished career, and who's now NATO's Commander of Operation Unified Protector.

General, I know you only have about 20 minutes. We already have a couple of questions here in Brussels, but please go ahead with your statement and we'll come back for the questions afterwards.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD (Commander of NATO Military Operations in Libya): Thank you very much, and ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming out today. as you will appreciate it`s been a rather busy few days.

I also want to welcome Brussels, again, to this news conference, and although I cannot see the NATO spokesperson in person herself, I'm grateful for her to be here today, for an opportunity to explain NATO's lead military role in this Libyan crisis.

Last week I had a great opportunity to visit the crew aboard the Mount Whitney, which is not too far for here, in fact. And I got to appreciate the great work done by these great professionals. As you know, the Mount Whitney has been the command ship for the coalition operations and while there I had an opportunity to first of all say thank you to the crew and all of the staff who have worked so very hard in these last few weeks.

Secondly, I had the chance to have some discussions about how NATO will eventually take over this military effort, by exercising command and control from this Headquarters here in Naples. I've since had the opportunity to thank and discuss the way ahead with many of the nations who are and will be participating in this NATO-led operation. This is a great example of why we have this military alliance, that we've come together very quickly and operate effectively together.

As you know NATO recently designated me as the Combined Joint Force Commander for Operation Unified Protector. My task is to lead the nations and non-NATO... correction, NATO and non-NATO forces that are being assigned under Operation Unified Protector.

NATO's operation in Libya include enforcing the UN mandated arms embargo, enforcing the no-fly zone and to help protect civilians and population centres that are under the threat of being attacked in Libya.

The arms embargo is in place, with more ships arriving all the time. NATO has also started missions to enforce the no-fly zone, and after last night's decision by the 28 allies of the Alliance NATO decided to take on the whole military operation in Libya under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

Our goal, our goal, is to help protect civilians and population centres from attack or that are under threat of an attack in Libya.

NATO will soon be implementing all military aspects of the UN Resolution. This is a very significant step which proves NATO's capability to take decisive actions. In the past week we've put together a complete package of operations in support of the United Nations Resolution by sea and by air.

We will be acting in close coordination with our international and regional partners to protect the people of Libya. The broader the effort the more powerful the message we send to the Libyan people who are desperate for our help.

I do want to emphasize that transition from coalition to NATO forces has been, and will be, a seamless handover, with no gaps in the effort to do what it takes to help protect the people of Libya.

Just to review with you some of the milestones that led to standing up the operation Unified Protector in response to the ongoing crisis, NATO allies on the 22nd of March responded to the UN call by launching an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya.

On the 23rd of March NATO commands the arms embargo operations. The Alliance decided on the 24th of March to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya, assuming the responsibility from the coalition operation and as you know, yesterday NATO aircraft flew the first no-fly zone enforcement mission in support of the operation.

And late last night the Alliance decided to take on the broader role of protecting civilians and population centres. And soon you will see NATO and our allies and our partners together in charge of this important effort commanding all military aspects of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

These three actions are a clear demonstration of the Alliance's commitment to uphold the United Nation mandate and to show our resolve to do what it takes to help protect the people and the population centres in Libya.

I do want to emphasize that NATO has taken action as part of a large international effort to protect the civilians against attack. We, NATO, are coordinating with our partners in the region and internationally and welcome the contribution.

We have a mandate, we have increasing support from our partners, and together we will make a difference for the people of Libya.

Here in Italy I will tell you that this NATO Headquarters, Joint Force Command Naples, is absolutely vital for this operation. Their work over the past few weeks have been tremendous and truly well executed.

You see in our Headquarters an international collection of forces, a wide variety of nations' military have gathered because it is critical, because it is the will of the 28 nations. Its strategic location has been important to the Alliance, and has been important for decades and centuries, as you all know, and it remains so today.

So we're very thankful for our host here in Italy, that have been so very supportive of the Alliance over so many years, and now enabling and welcoming the international forces that are operating so effectively. We simply could not accomplish our mission without the great support of all of those who are participating and the nations behind.

I'd be glad to take a few questions, but let's go to Brussels first, Mitch.

MODERATOR: Brussels, your questions, please.

OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, Al Jazeera.

Q: Hello, General. Paul Brennan from Al Jazeera English here. We're hearing credible reports from the Gaddafi loyalist town of Sirte that there have been coalition air strikes against targets both in and around the town. Can you confirm whether those reports are true, and if so, how you reconcile that with NATO's stated stance that it is impartial between the two sides, pro- and anti-Gaddafi?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: While we're monitoring NATO's operation and all operations I will not comment on coalition operations. I will restate, however, that NATO on assumption of the mission, our goal is to protect and help civilians and population centres under the threat of attack. That's where we stand.

MODERATOR: Can I take a second question from Brussels.


Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg News. General, just to follow-up up that question, can you tell us what the status is of the fighting around Sirte? How close are the rebels to taking the town?

Secondly, you spoke of coordination with the international community. What, if any, coordination is there with rebel groups on the ground? And thirdly, based on Libyan troop dispositions, how quickly do you think the rebels could advance toward Tripoli?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: These are all excellent questions, and yet we have not taken over this important tasks as we are. We continue to monitor the situation. We keep an eye on the situation. We are discussing it with coalition forces. However, disposition and action at this time are best kept and addressed by the coalition members. I'm sorry, your last question, I did not get it fully.

OANA LUNGESCU: When exactly will you be taking over from the coalition?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: The transition is in process right now, and we are under the direction of the North Atlantic Council and SHAPE Headquarters to continue this transition and the exact time of the transition is still being coordinated.

This is a very complex operation, but it's an operation that NATO is ready, NATO is able and NATO will take on. The exact date is soon, and I'll make sure you know about it as soon as we've completed the handover.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Oana. To move now to Naples, if I could come to the front please, to Reuters.

Q: General, Phil Pullella from Reuters. With (inaudible...) do you believe that NATO taking charge will encourage more Alliance countries to participate in the operation and more importantly, do you think it could encourage non-NATO countries to contribute to the operation and specifically the Arab countries, like Qatar and UAE have already done so.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, NATO represents 28 nations. Twenty-eight nations are committed to this mission. And certainly we are working together to meet our mission of protecting civilian and population centres under the threat of attack.

Through that we also welcome the addition of regional partners and international partners who want to join this Alliance and giving the strong message to the people of Libya that we understand their suffering and we will do our best to help protect them.

Q: (Inaudible...), CNN. There is a very real chance that this could (inaudible...) between two sides where civilian casualties are caused by military aggression on both parts. What would NATO's role be then if you could give a little more clarity on what the rules of engagement are?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, first of all, with regards of rules of engagement, we do not discuss them. It's akin to asking a football coach to give you his play book, so we'll not discuss operational details, nor rules of engagement.

But I can assure you that every action that we take is always taken with care to ensure that minimum collateral damage takes place. Our job is to ensure the safety of people and we will do what it takes to do that, but we will also ensure that we ensure their safety in doing our operations.

MODERATOR: We've just got time for one last question. The lady at the front here, please.

Q: Two things. I'm (inaudible) from Associated Press. To follow-up, I think, on the first question from Brussels, where do you draw the line between protecting civilians and providing air cover for the rebels, particularly as they're advancing on Sirte? And then the second question, tomorrow we have this political steering committee meeting in London. How do those decisions that may be taken by this grouping affect the chain of command and your decision-making ability here in Naples?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: I understand there's a great concern as to our activities and their impact on the people on the ground, but truly, truly my message and my mission is clear. Is to prevent and help prevent and protect populations and population centres from the threat of attack in Libya. That's all it is.

With regards to tomorrow's meeting I will be watching it with great interest and no doubt, my commanders will provide me the guidance I require to continue this mission. Thank you very much.

I'd like to actually close with one point. This mission is being undertaken by a great team, a great team of men and women working in NATO and in partnership with NATO. Let's remember them in all our efforts.

Thank you very much.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, General Bouchard, for giving us that point of view from the Operations Headquarters in Naples. We'll continue to try and organize these video teleconferences for your benefit.

Now, from NATO Headquarters, as the General said, NATO is now running Operation Unified Protector, both at sea and over Libya and last night, of course, allies confirmed their commitment to see NATO take on all military aspects of the United Nations mandate under the Security Council Resolution 1973.

Every ally is contributing either directly or indirectly with pilots, staff officers, technicians advisors, throughout the chain of command, including here at NATO Headquarters. And as you've heard from the General allies and partners are still in the process of transferring authority for their forces to participate under NATO command for all operations.

We expect to have a clear picture of who is committing forces in the coming days. What is already clear is that NATO has reacted with remarkable speed. In just over a week we've launched all three operations in support of the UN Resolution, the arms embargo, the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians under a single command.

The Secretary General will go to London tomorrow to attend the conference on Libya. He welcomes the conference. He expects it to provide an overall political framework for the efforts of the international community in support of the United Nations Resolution.

From the start of this crisis NATO's made clear that it's playing its role as part of these broad international efforts. That is what we'll continue to do in close coordination and consultation with our partners in the region and internationally.

Group Captain Geoffrey Booth, from the NATO International Military Staff, is here with us again, and both of us will answer your questions should you have any.

Q: Swiss Radio Television Thomas (inaudible). The question that I wanted to ask to Naples. If, as it seems, the rebel gain the upper hand and that results in threats to civilian population on the Gaddafi side, does NATO have a mandate to intervene? Perhaps academical question.

And can you detail the contribution of Germany and confirm that Germany has no ships taking part in the Unified Protector operation?

OANA LUNGESCU: Thomas, as we said, NATO is enforcing the United Nations mandate. That mandate is clear. To protect civilians and civilian populated areas from the threat of attack. And NATO is authorized under that UN Resolution to take all necessary measures to protect civilians from the threat of attack.

We won't go into the rules of engagement, but I think what is clear is that what started the international community in its efforts to support the people of Libya were the systematic attacks by Colonel Gaddafi on his own people. The fact that you've seen the shelling of city centres with heavy artillery, the outrageous violence that we've seen from the authorities against unarmed protesters, that is how this all started, and we have to remember that.

On Germany, as I said, all allies, all 28, are participating either directly or indirectly. In the next few days we'll be able to give you a clearer picture of the transfer of authority of assets from nations over to NATO.


Q: Yes, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Could you tell us how long it is anticipated this mission will last? And also, if the mission is to protect population centres, if you had a situation where rebel forces started firing weapons into population centres, and were thereby endangering them, what would NATO's response be to that?

I note that the Secretary General's statement, and your statement just then, has emphasized attacks... preventing attacks by Gaddafi's forces. Well what happens if there are attacks by rebel forces?

OANA LUNGESCU: In terms of the duration of the operation obviously I think everybody's hoping that this operation will be as short as possible. It's clear to everyone that there is no purely military solution to the crisis in Libya, so what we hope and expect is that there will be a cessation of violence and that there will be a peaceful solution to the crisis, a transition to democracy, which is what the people of Libya want.

As for your second question, as I said, the UN mandate is NATO's mandate, no more, no less, and that is what NATO forces will be implementing in this operation.

Q: What does that say? Is it actually impartial, so the question is, if the rebels threaten civilians how does NATO respond to them? Will it attack rebel position?

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, that's a hypothetical question we're not going to go into details of the rules of engagement. The 28 allies last night agreed on those rules of engagement on the broad framework for this operation and we then leave it to operational commanders on the ground to direct operations day to day.

Q: Oana, tomorrow the Secretary General is going to London. He's going to provide ideas to the general discussion or just to hear and they can talk out what is decided over there? Thank you?

OANA LUNGESCU: Can you just repeat that?

Q: Is he taking any (inaudible) offering ideas, or just in the listening mode to take from there what is being said there in order to operate in the future? Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: As I said, the Secretary General welcomes the international conference in support of Libya in London, which will bring together all NATO members, all the key international and regional actors. And what he expects this conference to provide is the broad international framework to implement all aspects of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Of course, we are not talking just about the military aspects that are under NATO command and control.

I think he will want to focus in particular on the fact that NATO is acting as part of the global efforts to support Libya; that we have tried and tested mechanisms to work with partners in the region. NATO has long-standing relations with many countries in the region, and we have the arrangements to involve them closely in operations as we are already doing in several operations.

Q: Oana, Kai from Germany Television ZDF. You talked of an overall political framework that should be developed tomorrow. Can you give us an idea which subjects, which topics are discussed? For example, whether the board(?) that is coming together tomorrow would like to get rid of Gaddafi or how would that happen? Or what is discussed?

And then, I think one decision is that NATO is in charge of the military thing and then there is a board of political decisions. Can you give us any idea how this division can work?

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, I think for the rundown of the agenda you have to speak to the organizer of the conference. For us the clear mandate provided by the UN Security Council Resolution is the protection of civilians in Libya.

The future of Libya is not in NATO's hands. The future of Libya is in the hands of the people of Libya and I think that is clear for everybody.

In terms of how this framework would work, I think what is clear is that we expect this conference to provide broad political lines to ensure that there is momentum for a peaceful process on the ground in Libya, for a peaceful solution.

Obviously the NATO Council, the North Atlantic Council, remains in political control of the direction of day-to-day military operations in close coordination and consultation, as I said, with our partners in the region, and nations contributing to this operation.

This is not new for NATO. If you think back to the 1990s in the Balkans, we had, for instance, a peace implementation council for Bosnia, so that is one possible mechanism that you can think of in terms of a possible precedent. Obviously, we'll have to see what is actually decided in London. Until we see that framework we can only speculate.

Q: Sorry, Hans de Bruyn, ANP Netherlands. More or less operational question. Who will decide on what forces will be used for what specific purpose? Because I'm asking this, the Dutch government has said that it will only sent F-16 aircraft to enforce the no-fly zone, and not for attacks on ground targets. Is that a distinction from an operational point of view that can be made?

GROUP CAPTAIN GEOFFREY BOOTH (NATO International Military Staff): Yes, it is. It's one of the things within the forces that they're declared, and in most NATO operations you will find that there can be, as we term, national caveats. So if there's things within the operation that they can or cannot do, in the case of the Netherlands F-16s, if they've been cleared for air-to-air operations only that's where they will feature on the tasking order, and only that.

Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency. Which non-NATO countries have offered to contribute to the NATO mission till now? Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: I can't give you any specific names. It's up to those countries to announce themselves, but I can tell you that the Secretary General and his staff have been in close contract with many nations and organizations across the region and we're confident that several of them will participate in this NATO-led operation.

Q: Chantal Monet, RTL Belgium. So the threat on the civilians comes clearly from Gaddafi, so can we conclude that NATO will stay until Gaddafi is gone?

OANA LUNGESCU: As I said, the future of Libya is in the hands of the people of Libya. It's for them to decide what happens with the leadership of their country. It's not for us to decide. As for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution, that is quite clear. It refers to attacks on civilians and protecting civilians from all attacks. And NATO will apply that resolution in an impartial way.

Q: Noureddine Fridhi, from Al Arabiya news channel. Could we understand that NATO on the humanitarian side, that NATO will deploy troops, let's say in the Benghazi or in other area, it may need humanitarian assistance whether it is medical or food extra, or does NATO leave that for humanitarian organization and European Union?

OANA LUNGESCU: As I understand the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 there's going to be no presence on the ground. The Security Council Resolution explicitly refers to the fact that there's going to be no foreign military intervention on the ground.

Q: Dmytro Shkurko, National News Agency of Ukraine. Just short follow-up on the partner participations. Will the partnerships taking part in Active Endeavour be involved in embargo operations around Libya? Thanks.

OANA LUNGESCU: Yes, I think that's up to them, but obviously these are different operations. Active Endeavour is a different operation from Operation Unified Protector.


Q: Thank you. Ana Pisonero, from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. We understand that the most sensitive for NATO to take over the whole spectrum of operations in Libya were the special attacks, targeted military attacks on the ground. So inside, without going too much into detail in the rules of engagement, but do you have any provisions that you will limit even more their use and in which conditions you recur to them? I mean, not just because we see a tank moving towards, but that you actually see a tank maybe firing a missile against a populated area. Will you be more limited in these kind of operations, because I understand that Turkey was the NATO member state that had the most problems with this, to accept this?

Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: As usual, we can't go into the details of the rules of engagement. As I said all 28 allies last night agreed to the rules of engagement, and agreed to the framework for this operation and we will leave it to operational commanders on the ground to direct military operations on a day-to-day basis.


GROUP CAPTAIN GEOFFREY BOOTH: I've nothing to add to that. That's where we are.


Q: Laurent Thomet, with Agence France-Presse. So for now any of the strikes on troops on the ground can we say that it's NATO strikes, or are we still talking about the coalition and is the NAC in political control now or are we still waiting for the transition for that?

OANA LUNGESCU: As we've heard from General Bouchard just now, obviously that transition is under way. Nations are assigning assets to NATO authority as we speak. But I think on average that transition is not instantaneous. It's a phased transition that is expected to take place over a couple of days.

GROUP CAPTAIN GEOFFREY BOOTH: As it stands at the moment, my understanding would be is that because General Bouchard has not actively taken control of all aspects NATO is only enforcing the no-fly zone at the moment. So any attacks that are being done on ground assets, at the moment, are coalition operations, not NATO.


Q: Hi, Matt Cole, BBC. Are you able to expand a little bit, please, on how many of the partners in this have put caveats in, for example, those who have explicitly said they would not attack ground targets? We hear that the Netherlands, perhaps, will only take part in the no-fly zone. How many have put caveats in and what are they?

GROUP CAPTAIN GEOFFREY BOOTH: At the moment I don't have that specific detail. I've not seen what nations... I mean, it's not unusual for nations to have certain restrictions within their operations. I know that the Netherlands have said air to air but I haven't seen any details and if there's been restrictions from any other nations.

Q: Christopher Ziedler from the Stuttgarter Zeitung in Germany. Two questions, if I may. The first, you spoke of indirect engagement of some member countries. Obviously Germany. Could you say what you mean by this indirect engagement?

And secondly, have there been any sort of guarantee by the so far coalition forces that there won't be parallel military action by the coalition once NATO has taken over?

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, as I say, the 28 allies agreed last night to launch this operation. As we speak they are transferring national assets to the command and control of NATO. We'll have to see what exactly is the contribution from each ally over the next few days.

And your second question was...?

Q: Well, if there was some kind of guarantee that they will... I mean, taking over doesn't necessarily mean that... up till now a coalition member could say well, we need additional military action here and there, so is there a guarantee that there will be definitely no further separate action by the coalition?

OANA LUNGESCU: I think that's clarity after last night's decision that the operation in Libya will be under the single command and control of NATO. It will be a single operation under a unitary command.

Q: (Inaudible...) newspaper (inaudible) Ukraine, follow-up on (inaudible...) question. Have any of the NATO partner countries participated in the (inaudible)... in Active Endeavour, sorry, stated explicitly that they're not going to send their ships to partake in the embargo operation?

OANA LUNGESCU: As I said before, these are two different operations. Active Endeavour is an anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean launched after the 9/11 attacks. Unified Protector is an operation that has just been launched under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

So these are two different operations with a different set of contributing partners.

As for the countries, partner nations, who will want to take part in Unified Protector I will leave it to them to announce their participation.


Q: I'm going to have one final stab at this question. I understand your reluctance to divulge operational details or go into the rules of engagement, but there is a clear hypothetical accepted danger here that the rules that you've set for yourself to protect civilians means effectively you create a stalemate in Libya which could go on for some time.

Now, it would be at least reassuring if you can tell us whether or not that particular outcome has at least been considered by the Alliance, by the 28 members, and how seriously you are actually planning for that potential outcome.

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, what we've been planning for is for all eventualities and for the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. That has been the clear strong appeal from the international community, from the Arab League, from others around the region, to support the people of Libya and to protect them against attacks.

The hope is, as I said, that we will see a cessation of violence sooner rather than later, because there is no military solution to this crisis in Libya, as elsewhere in the region. There can only be a political solution and we hope that the London conference will also contribute to showing the way ahead.

One last question here.

Q: Sorry, if I take the floor again, or was it from behind?

OANA LUNGESCU: It was from behind, actually.

Q: Well, one last obvious question. Are there any certain criteria for the end of this operation? So that what should be reached allies to decide, okay, we stop here and we withdraw? Thanks.

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, the mission goal is that we should see the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.

Thank you very much.