Press briefing on Libya

by Carmen Romero, NATO Deputy Spokesperson and Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of the Operation Unified Protector

  • 26 Apr. 2011
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  • Last updated 04-May-2011 15:38

CARMEN ROMERO (NATO Deputy Spokesperson): Okay, so now we can start. Good afternoon and welcome back to NATO for our regular briefing on progress in NATO's operation to protect civilians in Libya, Operation Unified Protector. I'm joined today, as you can see in the screen by the commander of our operation, General Charles Bouchard from Joint Force Command Naples.

As you know, it has been a busy operational week since our last briefing and I know that you are very interested in the recent developments in our operation, therefore I would like to hand over immediately the floor to General Bouchard, to Naples, for an operational update since we only have 30 minutes.

So General Bouchard, you have the floor.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD (Commander of the Operation Unified Protector): Merci Beaucoup, Carmen. Good afternoon and welcome to Naples in person and for those of you who are joining us through video link as well.

The last time I had an opportunity to talk to you was on the 31st of March as we took command and NATO took the lead in the Mission Unified Protector which is aimed at protecting civilian populations.

After 30 days on mission and engaged in this mission, I believe it's time for me to give you a small update, a brief update, of this situation as I see it from my perspective.

I think it's important from the start to restate that our mission is to help prevent harm to the population and the population centres in Libya. To do that we have been given three major areas. The first one is a maritime embargo and to ensure that we stop the movement of illicit weapons in and out of Libya. The second area that we're working on is one where we are enforcing a No-Fly Zone in the area to prevent arms from coming, using weapons against... from the Qadhafi regime that could be used to harm the population.

The third area, and probably the most challenging task of this mission, is to help protect civilians and civilian populated areas under the threat of attack in Libya and that is the one that I'm most focused on every day.

I'd like to take you a little bit from my perspective as I see the situation in the area today.

First of all, in the east you will recall some 30 days ago Ajdabiya was on constant fire and Benghazi was threatened as well. Today both of these cities are seeing relative peace and a lack of fire being brought upon the population. But that has not in itself removed the risk that we're still facing from pro-Qadhafi forces who have the intent and who have the capability to bring harm on the population. We remain focused on them and we are ready to engage them as required and when it will be required.

The area of Yefren-Zintan area, where violence continues against the Berber tribe and also other members of the population continues. The situation is a bit more dynamic in the area, but we continue to stay focused, and as late as yesterday we were continuing efforts and gaining in stopping pro-Qadhafi forces from engaging the population.

Finally, the area of Misrata area. Some 30 days you will recall that the population was nearly on the edge of the city backing the Med. Today they've made significant gains in the city, though they continue to be receiving indirect and indiscriminate fire on the population. So the violence against population, whether through threat, capability or intent, continues throughout the entire area.

When I look at the situation in all, I think also it's important that we look at it from a campaign perspective, not a city-by-city issue. We remain focused on those command and control nodes that are utilized to order military personnel to engage civilian populations. We remain engaged on the lines of communications that are used to resupply those forces engaged in bringing harm to the population.

We're also working on stopping the supply chain from ammunition depots and other areas to stop the movement of these weapons forward to enable harm from coming to the population.

And finally, we remain directly engaged in engaging those forces that are directly or indirectly targeting the population. This is a campaign, this is an area that we look across. Not a day goes by where I do not think about the harm coming to the civilian population. Not a day goes by that I don't see pro-Qadhafi forces using violence against men, women and children. Not a day goes by that I don't notice that pro-Qadhafi forces are shielding themselves against men, women... with men, women and children, and our mission is to bring an end to that. Our mission is to bring an environment where diplomacy can take place, dialogue can take place and we can bring to the people of Libya an environment where they can decide for themselves their own future of their country.

That completes my opening remarks. We will go to questions now.

CARMEN ROMERO: Three questions from Brussels and then we will take three questions from Naples. So first, Reuters and please identify yourself. Thank you. Reuters. Here.

Q: (Inaudible...), Reuters. We heard from... in this room two weeks ago that the NATO-led forces have destroyed about 30 percent of Qadhafi's fire power. And a couple of days ago we've heard from Admiral Mullen that the progress so far has been about 30 to 40 percent of Qadhafi's fire power being destroyed. That doesn't seem like a lot of progress for two weeks. It could actually suggest, because he said 30 to 40 percent, that could suggest absolutely no progress. Could you tell us a little bit what kind of ground have you made so far in the campaign in the last two weeks?

And the introduction of the American and the limited number of American drones in recent days, could those be seen as effective as the A-10s or the AC-130s or helicopters?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: First of all, the issue of numbers has got to be taken in perspective. This is not a numbers game. This is not about the number of tanks destroyed. We will provide you with the statistics, but from my perspective, as the operational commander, this is about bringing effects and the effect is to bring... reduce the capability and the will of pro-Qadhafi forces to engage civilians. And we continue to stay engaged with that.

Therefore, in response to your question, this is more than just numbers and statistics, but this is about a combination that will bring the effects that we want.

I notice, for example, that over the last week you've so ably reported that members of pro-Qadhafi forces have turned themselves to the anti-Qadhafi forces. Others have sought refuge in other countries, neighbouring countries, and we are well aware of troops not reporting for duty.

I salute those troops who are taking a moral stand and are not taking actions that are immoral, illegal and unethical. And I encourage others to continue. And my aim is to bring an end to the violence, not by numbers, but by bringing an end to violence through kinetic, non-kinetic and all other aspects of this mission.

With regards to the addition to the U.S. Predator, armed Predator, to the mission, of course I welcome any and all assistance that we're provided. We've been provided forces by NATO. We've been provided a clear mission by NATO. We have been provided, as we witnessed in Berlin, the leaders in Berlin, clear support for our mission.

These weapons systems are able to engage in closer quarters and more will follow as I welcome today the addition, as has been announced earlier, of our Italian colleagues who will join our operation. So to me it's not a matter of numbers, but effects, and the effect is to bring an end to the violence against the population.

With regards to the weapons systems I welcome all assistance that we require, but not all the solution is kinetic. This is a solution that's kinetic, non-kinetic, diplomatic and political.

CARMEN ROMERO: Next one, the Guardian.

Q: Ian Traynor of the Guardian. General Bouchard, you speak of engaging forces both directly and indirectly threatening the civilian population. Can you let us know what you mean by... how are they indirectly threatening the civilian population of Libya?

And secondly, I think on Sunday evening there was an attack in central Tripoli on a compound known to shelter the Libyan regime leadership. Buildings that were recently visited by African heads of state, for example. Could you explain why that attack helped to protect Libyan civilians?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: First of all, this is... our effort continues to be across all the fronts that we have. As I stated earlier, forces are directly and indirectly. What I mean by that is those direct weapons systems, tanks, guns that are being used, but more importantly and it's the immoral use of indirect weapons, such as rocket launchers and artillery, that are indiscriminately being fired on civilian populations. That's what I mean by direct and indirect fire. And our effort continues to find these and to bring an end to their use against the civilian population.

With regards to the engagement that we conducted in Tripoli, I continue to stay focused, not on individuals. This is not about individuals. This is not about regime change. This is about bringing an end to violence against a population by engaging troops that are directly bringing harm to the population, by stopping the lines of communication and supply chain and by stopping and preventing those command and control nodes, location where orders are given to troops to engage civilian population. That is our theme.

CARMEN ROMERO: ZDF, please.

Q: A follow-up on this question, (inaudible...) German Television ZDF. Was Qadhafi in this room of the President Palace? Do you have any information about that or where he is at the moment? And whether NATO is hunting after him?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: My mission is clear, to bring an end to violence against the population. I would suggest to you, sir, that he was not in the room when the bomb fell on the building because we saw him on television the day after that.

But the point here is this is about command and control nodes, not about individuals.

CARMEN ROMERO: I now hand over to Naples for the next three questions, please.

Q: (SPEAKING IN ITALIAN)...

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Perhaps, sir, you will allow us to fix this and I'll take your question later on.

Q: (Inaudible) today because you spoke about your mission that is your target is to defend the civilian people. Can you tell us how many victims still today loyalty army of Qadhafi (inaudible...)?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: NATO does not have anybody on the ground and the information that I receive is information I receive through various networks and various organizations. But to give you an exact number is not something I can, because I do not have these such numbers. And therefore, we rely on the press also, and the media, to tell us about the events, to tell us about the harm that is being brought on the population.

Q: (Inaudible...) what's your idea about what is happening there?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Let me answer that first question. The numbers would be significantly larger if NATO wasn't there to help bring an end to the violence. That is a clear fact.

As far as our effort to continue, I'm pleased to report that we've seen quite a bit of improvement of anti-Qadhafi forces have taken in the city. But here again the information is not clear to us in that we do not have.. NATO does not have people on the ground.

Q: Hi General. (Inaudible) from the Stars and Stripes. You guys have said repeatedly that this is not about regime change, emphatically this is not about Qadhafi leaving, but in your mind militarily and looking at this whole campaign as a military man, how does this mission end if not by regime change? You know, Qadhafi has spoken of no mercy for the rebel forces and it seems like... do you see a NATO mission accomplish moment or end state that involves Qadhafi still in power? I mean, how does this thing end without him being removed from power?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: From our perspective, CJTF, Unified Protector, our mission is to bring an end to the violence. Our mission will take place … will end when pro-Qadhafi forces stop their actions that are immoral, unethical and illegal. Our mission will come to an end when we bring peace. Our mission will come to an end when we can have dialogue and I will let those above me decide that portion of it.

But at the end of the day this is more than just kinetic activity, as I said earlier on. This is about military action, diplomatic action, political action, unity in the international community to (break in transmission) solution to this (break in transmission).

CARMEN ROMERO: Okay, back to Brussels. Next question. Oh Bloomberg, first.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible...) gone by the time Unified Protector is finished.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Is he there? Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. General, I was just curious to know, unless it was proven to be C2... strategic C2 communications in the presidential residence in Tripoli there was no reason to bomb that building. Otherwise it could easily be interpreted, indeed, as an action of regime change. Could you verify that it was a clear military target? Thank you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Let me be perfectly clear. Every target that we engage are legal, authorized targets in accordance with the direction that we have. Further, let's also be clear that this is a military compound in which there are various houses and residences, and also administrative, technical command and control nodes throughout. Therefore, I can assure you that our intent continues to be engaging C2 command and control nodes.

CARMEN ROMERO: Bloomberg.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Continuing with the same issue, do you have a damage assessment of what was hit in that attack? Secondly, was it ordered at your level or discussed at a higher level with Alliance capitals, this particular strike?

And thirdly, today NATO put out an operational update an hour or so ago saying an intelligence complex was hit and then sent out an update to the update removing the reference to the intelligence complex. Can you tell us what that was about, please?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Your question is akin to asking the football coach to show you his playbook. And a good football coach will not let out and give out his playbook and nor will I, for the security of our own forces and for the success of our mission. I can assure you that we remain engaged on all fronts, as necessary.

One last question.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Yes. Please, (inaudible) Press.

Q: Good afternoon, General, (inaudible...). My question is, how effective are the strikes carried out by Predators? What are they capable of? And second, how is NATO going to deal with Qadhafi forces using men, women and children as a shield against NATO air strikes and operations?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, go back to my playbook again and there's quite a bit of information available on open source that will provide you with appropriate technical details that are useable and I recommend to you that first part.

With regards to the second part, I will keep my own tactics and plan to myself at this point.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to thank you again for coming in this afternoon, allowing me the opportunity to give you a 30-day update. Further, I think it's important to restate that this is about bringing an end to violence. This is about shaping an environment for dialogue, for diplomacy. This is about creating an environment for the people of Libya to decide the future of their country. That is what Operation Unified Protector is all about.

Thank you very much.