Press briefing on Libya

by Oana Lungescu, the NATO Spokesperson and Wing Commander Mike Bracken, Operation ‘’Unified Protector’’ military spokesperson

  • 12 Jul. 2011
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  • Last updated: 13 Jul. 2011 10:22

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Welcome to everybody here in Brussels, and to those joining us from Naples. I'll hand over to Wing Commander Mike Bracken in Naples in a few minutes for the operational update.

As you know, the Secretary General visited the Headquarters of Operation Unified Protector in Naples on Friday. It was a chance for him to have the very latest update on the progress the mission is making in protecting civilians, and also a chance for him to thank, in person, all those who are conducting NATO's mission, Operation Unified Protector for Libya.

NATO and our partners are carrying out this operation with great care and with great precision, but as we've said from the start there has to be a political solution to this conflict and the sooner it comes the better.

On Friday the Secretary General will take part in the meeting of the Contact Group in Istanbul. The Contact Group can make a critical contribution to the search for a political solution, which responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.

The Secretary General will look to the meeting to come forward with ideas which are realistic and pragmatic.

Finally, I have to announce that this will be Mike Bracken's last press conference as the Spokesman of Operation Unified Protector. Mike has served this operation tirelessly since he took over as Spokesman. His rotation has now reached its planned end, so I would like to thank him for his dedication, for his professionalism and for the many sleepless nights that he's devoted to answering all your questions.

Mike, thank you very much from us in Brussels. Now, over to you.

WING COMMANDER MIKE BRACKEN (Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector): Oana, thank you very much for those kinds words and good afternoon, Brussels, and welcome to those who've joined us here today in Naples.

Thank you for joining us once again in our continued effort to keep the public informed of details regarding Operation Unified Protector, the NATO-led mission in Libya under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

It has only been a few days since our last operational update, so what I thought I would do is provide you with a brief overview of the situation on the ground from east to west, and then recap some of the notable events which have occurred during my tenure as the operational spokesperson and chief media advisor to the OUP Commander over the past two months plus.

Over the past week NATO forces have flown near 1,000 sorties. In the areas of Brega, Misrata and Gharyan, NATO has degraded the pro-Qadhafi forces and added further protection to the civilian population by removing command-and-control centres, artillery pieces, rocket launchers, armed vehicles and military refuelling equipment.

On Saturday near Tawurgha, south of Misrata, NATO air strikes targeted military long-range rocket systems located in a former farm complex, which had been converted into a cache for these systems and a staging post for pro-Qadhafi forces.

The rockets were being launched indiscriminately in the areas around Misrata, the city and the port and the city and locations and villages around the farm itself.

NATO is achieving its mission and its military forces will continue to maintain the pressure on those forces who are planning and carrying out attacks on civilians.

Now for the overview of the situation on the ground from east to west. In the east the situation is relatively stable. Anti-Qadhafi forces are deployed in and around Ajdabiya and Jalu, while the pro-Qadhafi forces' stronghold remains Brega.

In Misrata, pro-Qadhafi forces have been launching rocket attacks on the city. Indications are that such indiscriminate attacks on civilians are now the only offensive capability available to the pro-Qadhafi forces. Those pro-Qadhafi forces continue to defend the urban areas of Naimah and Zliten, whilst anti-Qadhafi elements are maintaining the pressure from their positions just west of Dafniyah.

The northwest coastal region is strategically important, with the key oil refinery in Al-Zawiya, the main highway connecting Tripoli and Zuwarah and the road networks extending south to the Nafusa mountain region. It is assessed that pro-Qadhafi forces retain control of the military infrastructure, cities and highways in this area, and are suppressing the local population.

There has been a great deal of media coverage of intensified fighting and opposition advances in the Berber Highlands and the Nafusa mountain region. NATO is monitoring the situation there closely, using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to verify the reports. It is assessed that anti-Qadhafi forces maintain control over the main road between Wazin and Yafran and also the Shatshuk and Al-Qalaa corridor.

Kiklah is still contested and anti-Qadhafi forces are maintaining the pressure in the area. The presence of pro-Qadhafi forces in Gharyan at this time is probably preventing any uprising in that town, but throughout the western region pro-Qadhafi forces appear to be largely in defensive positions from which they persist in shelling the civilian population.

And now if I may, I'd like to recap on a few notable events of Operation Unified Protector in the last two months.

When NATO began its mission in Libya the operational focus was in removing the widespread and immediate threat to the safety of many thousands of Libyans in the cities of Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Brega, Ras Lanouf and Misrata. NATO air strikes disabled and destroyed those pro-Qadhafi forces actively engaged in harming the population, preventing a massacre in Benghazi and doubtlessly saving many thousands of lives across Libya.

As the mission continued to degrade the pro-Qadhafi military there are a number of occasions which stand out in my mind as particularly significant because they demonstrated the callous recklessness of the pro-Qadhafi forces and their singular determination to come up with alternative ways of harming the Libyan population.

Firstly, in the early hours of April the 29th NATO maritime assets spotted some small rigid hull inflatable boats, known as RHIBs, off the coast of Zintan [Zlitan ?]. They were disturbed in their covert operation to lay mines in the approaches to Misrata port, a clear attempt to endanger shipping and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people in the city that was, if you remember, besieged at the time.

Just prior to the mining incident Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul-Ati al-Obeidi vowed that regime forces would sink any ship approaching Misrata, essentially threatening NATO patrols and humanitarian aid vessels that were bringing in food and medical supplies and ferrying out refugees and the wounded.

Over the coming days and weeks NATO vessels worked tirelessly to clear the mine danger from Misrata and maintain the safety of shipping entering and leaving the port, which has steadfastly remained open.

Then in the small hours of May the 16th NATO maritime assets discovered an abandoned RHIB, again, near Misrata, carrying a tonne of high explosives and bizarrely, two human mannequins. It was the first evidence of an attempt by pro-Qadhafi forces to used improvised explosive devices with decoy human mannequins to threaten commercial shipping and humanitarian aid in the area of Misrata.

NATO vessels destroyed the RIB and its contents at sea. When NATO saw that pro-Qadhafi forces were now using their maritime assets, it had no choice but to take decisive action to protect the civilian population of Libya and NATO forces at sea. Overnight, on the 19th and 20th of May, a series of precision air strikes were carried out in Tripoli, Al Khums and Sirte against the Libyan navy vessels to ensure their weapons systems could never again be used to inflict harm on civilians.

I also recall the question raised at the end of my first press conference on the 13th of May regarding a NATO strike on the primary command-and-control facility in the Brega region. Following this successful strike on the key command-and-control node in eastern Libya NATO watched how pro-Qadhafi forces restructured in Brega and on the 24th of June NATO removed the subsequent dispersed command-and-control centres in and around the city.

NATO's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance provided a clear picture of pro-Qadhafi activity on the ground and it enabled it to deliver precision-guided strikes with minimum risk to civilians once these military targets were identified and approved.

Another milestone in the mission was the introduction of attack helicopters, which were used under NATO command for the first time on June the 4th.

As a key force multiplier attack helicopters have given NATO additional flexibility to track and engage pro-Qadhafi forces deliberately targeting civilians and attempting to hide in built-up areas. They have so far destroyed over 300 military targets, such as armed vehicles, main battle tanks, radar systems, military checkpoints and command posts. And they are assessed to have had a strong deterrent affect on pro-Qadhafi forces launching attacks on civilians.

During my operational updates I've stressed the ongoing necessity for NATO mission to continue its role to protect the civilian population. The operation is and continues to be successful and to fulfil the UN mandate. But sadly the pro-Qadhafi forces have made it necessary for our mission to continue, because they are still determined to launch attacks on the population and continue to use them as a human shield.

At an operational update on June the 17th I played footage of pro-Qadhafi forces using a mosque to launch rockets into a nearby populated area near Zlitan. And NATO's intensification of air strikes in Tripoli and on the Bab al-Aziziya presidential complex.

These were carried out after meticulous pattern of life observations to prevent civilian casualties, after it was seen that a children's playground had been deliberately sited on top of one of Qadhafi's main command-and-control bunkers in Tripoli.

The Commander has repeatedly stated that ours is a coordinated campaign planned to apply military pressure across Libya using all assets available to NATO. We have concentrated on dismantling the command-and-control and logistical support nodes of pro-Qadhafi forces. We have adapted and we've developed our tactics and we have seen results.

Numerous senior civil servants and military commanders have defected from the regime. Morale of the Qadhafi forces has plummeted, and it's clear they are now unable to plan or launch coordinated, sustained attacks across Libya.

It is important to note that while NATO has been fulfilling its military mission under the UN mandate, it has also facilitated hundreds of humanitarian aid deliveries into the country to the suffering people of Libya. Humanitarian aid has been critical and these activities conducted by air, land and sea have been encouraged by NATO to enter Libya through places such as Misrata, the Tunisian border and Benghazi.

Since OUP began NATO forces have flown approximately 15,000 sorties, striking and rendering ineffective nearly 3,000 targets, which include command-and-control centres and other military assets. These have been used by pro-Qadhafi forces to plan and launch attacks on the population.

NATO and its partner forces remain fully committed to this mission and are intent on seeing the military mandate through.

The NATO forces are determined and dedicated to achieving all the military objectives that have been set. The mission is succeeding. My successor will be Colonel Roland Lavoie, who takes over from me as the military spokesperson today. He's currently with the Commander and you will obviously have the opportunity to meet him very soon.

That concludes my brief and I look forward to some of your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you, Mike and I would ask you to turn your mobile devices to silent please. We'll start over there, Egyptian TV.

Q: Thank you very much. Magdi Youssuof, Egyptian Television. In the beginning of the operation there were some figures saying that NATO did manage in a few days to break down over 40 percent from Qadhafi's military and then after a few days we get some more figures that more than half of the military capacity of Qadhafi, so if you can tell us after months which figures now would it arrive to?

And the second, they were talking about humanitarian aid to the people in Libya. Do the people live in the capital need also some aid or they are living in paradise? Thank you.

WING COMMANDER MIKE BRACKEN: Well, if I take the second part first, I don't think anybody in Libya is living in paradise. I think it's a very complex environment and the people of Libya have been put under tremendous strain whilst the regime has pounded them in Benghazi originally, and then in Misrata, and while they've been suppressed in the western parts of the country.

Humanitarian aid is essential in the country while it's under this sort of distress, and also we know that a large amount of the food that the Libyan people live off is normally imported, and we see that delivery of food not under humanitarian aid, but under delivery of wheat and flour, happening into Tripoli and across the ports of Libya on a daily basis.

So I think that's the first question. The second one is to do with metrics. I've certainly made it clear throughout my tenure that this isn't about metrics. It's not about statistics of how many tanks or how many facilities have been taken out. The metric I have given you already is that approximately 3,000 targets have been removed. I think what's important is while there's one single tank that can fire its armament into the city or town of Misrata, or any other area of Libya, then there are targets to be hit, then there is still a risk to civilian lives.

So it wouldn't matter if I said to you 99 percent had been taken out. There's still a percentage that could be used. So I don't think metrics are relevant in this debate at all and that is why we've avoided talking to you in that form of attrition. So I believe we should stick to that. It's the correct way of reporting. This is an effects-based operation and the effect we're trying to achieve is the United Nations mandate in both parts of the sea and the air, and the protection of the civilian population. And that effect we have achieved and we are going to maintain.

Thank you.


Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. With all due respect to my colleague, I mean, you just spent ten minutes reciting metrics to us so I think his question about metrics is relevant.

My two questions are the following: One, you said morale among Qadhafi's forces has plummeted. I found that to be a rather sweeping statement. I would like you to give us some evidence to back up that assertion. What evidence do you have there that [morale of] military forces of Qadhafi have plummeted.

And secondly, a very simple question, a metrical one, if you like, Ramadan starts on August 1st, does NATO intend to continue bombing during... on the start of Ramadan and thereafter? Yes or no, thank you.

WING COMMANDER MIKE BRACKEN: Okay, I'll take the first one first, which is the morale of the forces. We've seen a number of defections occur over the last month. We've also seen political defections. And that's a clear indicator of morale. We've also seen developments on the ground from using the ISR facilities that we have, that whilst the initial layer of forces may wish to step back from the fight, and to turn and retract, as in regime forces, we see there's a layer behind them that ceases that action coming forward. And I would say that that is also where we can see the morale of the issue coming forward.

We don't have people on the ground so we can't give you the exact names and exact locations of this, but we have clear reporting, some through open source, some through other means, that we fuse together, and that is the assessment that we have made and we wish to share with you today.

The second question was with regard to Ramadan. Of course, this is very clear to us. The effect of Ramadan is we need to wait and see whether the Qadhafi forces continue to shell and inflict harm on the people of Libya. If they do, and we believe that there is risk to the lives of the Libyan people, to men, women and children, could be slaughtered or attacked, then I think it would be highly appropriate for the protection of those lives to continue, and NATO would use the mandate that it has to protect those lives.

Oana, would you like to add anything on that subject?

OANA LUNGESCU: Well, clearly, Brooks, as you know, the mandate of the mission that NATO and our partners are conducting is the protection of civilians under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, and it is hoped that the Qadhafi forces will stop attacking and threatening to attack civilians. Not just for Ramadan, but immediately. One of the three clear military objectives that NATO allies and partners have said is an end to all attacks against civilians, the withdrawal of all regime forces to bases, and full and unhindered humanitarian access.

So until now unfortunately Qadhafi's regime has shown a shocking disregard for human life. We have seen the Qadhafi regime forces using civilian- populated areas as human shields, using mosques to fire against residential areas, so as long as those attacks and those threats continue to be there NATO's mission is to protect civilians in Libya.

Q: Mondher Nemri et la Télévision (inaudible), j'ai deux questions. La première question qui me préoccupe c'est concernant les révolutionnaires libyens. Il est vrai que l'OTAN fait des succès au niveau des attaques aériennes. Mais sur le terrain, les révolutionnaires manquent. Ils ont un manque d'expérience et d'hommes. Et ils ont un manque aussi d'armes. Alors, ma question, est-ce que l'OTAN envisage-t-il pour le futur d'armer ces révolutionnaires?

Deuxième question concernant les aides humanitaires et l'acheminement des aides. Il y a un réel problème surtout au niveau de la frontière tunisio-libyenne. Beaucoup d'ONG souffrent de ce problème de manque d'acheminement d'aide humanitaire. Et ils disent que les frappes de l'OTAN sont insuffisantes pour qu'on puisse acheminer ces aides humanitaires. Merci

OANA LUNGESCU: Pour ta première question, comme tu sais, le mandat des forces de l'OTAN et de nos partenaires est très clair: c'est la protection des civils, l'embargo sur les armes et la zone d'interdiction aérienne. Et on suit ce mandat avec beaucoup d'attention. Et c'est le mandat de cette mission.

Pour ta deuxième question, en ce qui concerne l'acheminement des aides humanitaires, ce que peut faire l'OTAN qui n'a pas de force sur... sur le terrain, c'est ce qu'on appelle "deconflict". Je ne sais pas exactement quel est le terme en français. Mais de faire en sorte que les aides, les convois humanitaires n'entrent pas en contradiction avec les opérations de l'OTAN, mandaté par les unions... par les Nations Unies. Et jusqu'à maintenant l'OTAN a aidé à plus de 500 convois humanitaires ou d'autres aides humanitaires d'être acheminés vers la Libye. Plus de soixante-dix que je me rappelle pour Misrata, par le port de Misrata et d'autres centaines partout à travers la Libye.

Mike, I think we can go over to you in Naples for any other questions.

MODERATOR: Hello, we have a question from Dr. Maurizio Dente from ANSA.

Q: Yes, good morning. My name is Dente from ANSA. I wanted to know if NATO is in possession of information concerning a possible attack by rebel forces in the Nafusa area?

WING COMMANDER MIKE BRACKEN: We don't have people on the ground so it's difficult to assess exactly where any fighting is going on to a specific area in advance. What we can sometimes do is through our information, reconnaissance, surveillance is to track activity that's going on at the time. So I can't actually answer exactly what is going on on the ground per se.

What I can say is that we've seen activity in that area over the last couple of weeks. There's continued to be fighting in the Berber and western regions and across the whole of Libya, as I discussed during that brief. But when it comes to specifics we don't have that connectivity to give you that information.

That's it from Naples. Thank you.


Q: Yes, hi Mike. First of all, thank you for your help over these past few months. I have a couple of question for Oana. (Laughs). Yes, not for you. You're off the hook.

First of all, tomorrow we have the meeting of the NAC and the Secretary General with the Transitional Council from Libya. Will they be asking the Libyan opposition delegation to engage in political negotiations with the Qadhafi regime to end the war? So that's one question.

And the other is on the killing of President Karzai's brother in Afghanistan. What kind of message do you think a strike on a top government official in Afghanistan... what kind of a message does that send about security in the country? Thanks.

OANA LUNGESCU: Slobo, on your first question, the meeting with the delegation from the Transitional National Council, they will take part in an informal meeting of the North Atlantic Council and we’ll also have a short bilateral meeting with the Secretary General.

As you know, NATO's mission is a military one under the two relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. And NATO is fulfilling that mandate. NATO is not in charge of the political track, so tomorrow's meeting with officials from the Transitional National Council will be a good opportunity to hear from them about how they see the situation on the ground and how they see the way ahead. And an opportunity for NATO to explain how it's conducting, together with its partners, how it's conducting its mission to fulfil the United Nations mandate.

On your second question, as you know, General Petraeus, the Commander of ISAF, has issued a statement extending his condolences to President Karzai on the death of the President's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. General Petraeus says: My personal sympathy and condolences go out to President Karzai and his family during this extremely difficult time. President Karzai is working to create a stronger, more secure Afghanistan and for such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is unfathomable.

General Petraeus goes on to say: I strongly condemn the actions by anyone who played a role in this murder. ISAF will support the Afghan Government in every possible way to bring to justice those involved in the murder of Ahmed Wali Karzai.

So this was the message from general Petraeus. Obviously this underlines why it is so important for ISAF to see the mission through, so that Afghan families can live without the fear of such pointless and brutal violence in the future.

I think these are all the questions we have for today from Brussels. If there are no more questions from Naples...? Thank you very much indeed to everybody.

WING COMMANDER MIKE BRACKEN: Nothing more from Naples, Oana.