Press briefing on Libya

by Carmen Romero, NATO Deputy Spokesperson and LtGen Bouchard, Commander Operation Unified Protector

  • 22 Sep. 2011
  • |
  • Last updated: 23 Sep. 2011 10:29

CARMEN ROMERO (NATO Deputy Spokesperson): I think now we can start. Good morning here in Brussels and Naples and to the journalists who are watching, joining us by internet.

I welcome today the Commander of Operation Unified Protector, General Bouchard, who is joining us from Naples. I will hand over straight to our Commander. Mon général, vous avez la parole.

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD (Commander, Operation Unified Protector): Merci beaucoup, Carmen. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It's a pleasure to come back today and give you an update on the status of the mission, the Operation Unified Protector. The mandate for Operation Unified Protector has been expanded... correction, extended, rather. And this milestone provides me an opportunity to give you an update of the situation.

The Secretary General of NATO has announced the extension by another 90 days and that means for NATO forces that we will continue our missions to enforce the embargo, enforce a No-Fly Zone and continue with the protection of the civilian population.

I believe that given the effort of our mission a great number of civilian casualties have been avoided, and in fact, indeed, we have avoided the human catastrophe. Our success will be shown in the next maps as we look through them, but I think it'll become obvious to all the road to OUP has been between our first days on the 31st of March to today.

But let there be no doubt that we continue to see threats from the regime. Their forces are still dangerous, orders continue to be given and violence against the population continues.

Just a few days ago, outside Sirte, 25 families were exchanged for food and water. For me this means that we still see civilian population held as human shields, held hostages, and also it tells us that the dire situation that the population is facing in Sirte.

By the way, the trade of food and water was not for the civilian population, but to support the pro-Qadhafi forces.

NATO shielded the civilian population against a military that is immoral, unethical and continues its illegal action against their own people. We've done that, we've done our mission through extreme caution in all our actions and activities to ensure that no harm to the civilians would come and that the key infrastructure that will be much needed in the months to come has been left intact to enable this country to get back on its feet as soon as possible.

At sea the challenge has not been any easier. Over 2,600 vessels have been hailed and 285 boardings have been completed. In the air we've completed over 23,000 sorties, of which 8,500 were strike sorties.

Let's take a brief look at the maps to look at the story of the situation over the past six months.

As we look in the first part, OUP was given a task from Odyssey Dawn to do the three missions and when we first started only Benghazi was considered safe and Misrata was under critical fire and so was the area in Jebel Nefoussa.

Next slide, please.

By May extension had been completed and Misrata continued to be under severe fire, but we were able to stop the advance and to stabilize the situation.

Next slide, please.

By July we had seen Jebel Nefoussa rising on their own and pushing regime forces. Also Misrata was finally able to live without the danger of constant shelling by regime forces.

Next slide.

By August all of the area in yellow were under anti-Qadhafi control, NTC control, and only a small area here remained.

Today, next slide, we're pleased to report that there are only three isolated areas where regime forces continue to impose their will on the population in the area of Sirte, Bani Walid and Al Fuqaha.

As you can see the situation has progressed throughout the months, the six months that this operation has been going. My assessment today is that Qadhafi forces are no longer able to conduct coordinated operations throughout Libya, but rather has been reduced to tactical actions in isolated pockets, and it's only a matter of time before these issues are being resolved.

Throughout that time we've continued our effort to ensure the population would be supported, and we continued our action against valid military targets to prevent orders to be given, forces to be supported, amassed or direct and indirect fire to come on the population.

As of today we assess that around 200,000 people still face actions by regime forces. On the positive side, we're also aware of the restoration of services and the return to normalcy in many of the cities. Misrata, Benghazi, Jebel Nefoussa area and indeed, Tripoli, are all returning back to normalcy where rule of law and order has been restored.

We also do not assess that a humanitarian crisis is looming, although we do acknowledge that some areas are at more risk than others.

The new UN Resolution 2009 has been passed, and for us it means no major change in the No-Fly Zone, as we will continue to maintain it. We will continue to deny permission to any aircraft to take off from Libya, land or overfly Libya if the aircraft is suspected of containing items prohibited by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970.

The UN Security Council Resolution 2009 lifts the band on registered, owned and operated aircraft by the NTC, and I want to stress, however, that the No-Fly Zone is still in effect and that NATO continues to manage the air space in the surrounding area and over Libya.

The arms embargo has been relaxed, so that certain categories of arms and related material of all type, including technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance are permitted entry into the area.

We also welcome the appointment of Mr. Martin as the United Nations Secretary General Representative to Libya. From our perspective then we will maintain our vigilance and strong posture to protect the civilian population. We will continue to enforce the No-Fly Zone and the arms embargo and we will continue to do so with professionalism, dedication and extreme care in all our activity.

Finally, as stated by the Secretary General of NATO, we will not do this one day longer than needed.

I think in closing I would like to thank the men and women who are serving together on Operation Unified Protector. They represent their nations with pride and they do it with professionalism. We have a great team of 28 nations and four partners united to this cause. In particular, I would also like to thank the Italian government for providing us basing rights in the area and strong support in our kinetic operations.

Danish, Belgium, Norway, Qatar, UAE, United Kingdom, France and Canada have also all united to provide that assistance required for kinetic operation. The support of the United States has been critical in providing us capacity and specialized capability to conduct this mission, but at the end of the day this is a victory for the people of Libya. We've shaped the environment to help them achieve their objective, to stop organized and state-sponsored violence against the population of Libya, to create an environment for diplomacy and democratic dialogue, and finally, and ultimately, to enable the people of Libya to decide for themselves their own future.

This mission is not over by any means, but it's certainly progressing in accordance with our campaign plan and it's progressing well.

This completes my remarks and I'll pass the mike back to Carmen for comments.

CARMEN ROMERO: Than you General. We are starting to take questions here in Brussels. Please identify yourself for the General. Reuters.

Q: General, it's David Brunnstrom from Reuters. Again, I have to ask what your best guess is as to Colonel Qadhafi's location and do you believe he's still in Libya? And following on from that, what's your best assessment as to how long Qadhafi's forces can hold out? Do you have any estimate of the number of fighters that he has in those enclaves, three enclaves you've mentioned? And are you confident that this mission can be concluded within the 90 days of the new mandate?

Thank you.

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: These are very good questions. Also questions very difficult to respond. As to the location of Qadhafi himself we do not know his whereabouts, but what we know is he continues to give messages and to give orders to continue. His public statements are certainly a testament to that, to entice his regime forces to continue with this action. But from our perspective I do not know where Qadhafi is.

As for how long the troops can last? Well, much of this will be based on the NTC forces and anti-Qadhafi forces on the ground and their activities and also the will of the regime forces to continue. Because our mandate and our mission is not only one of kinetic action, but one to break down the will to fight, to put the weapons down and to just seek a peaceful settlement of this issue.

The last point, as far as .. Can we complete this mission? I'm highly confident that we can complete this mission well within the limits as provided by NATO.

Thank you.

CARMEN ROMERO: We go to ZDF, please.

Q: My name is Kai Niklasch, German Television ZDF. General, Bouchard, you said that the arms embargo is lifted a little bit. Who is getting arms from whom then? That's my first question. And you said in Tripoli and Misrata the civilians are almost returned to normal life. The police that is acting in the cities like this under which control are they? Are they under NATO control or under the control of the opposition? What is your impression?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, first of all, with regards to the arms embargo our point is to make sure that the cargo manifested is in accordance with the international limitations that have been provided. We've not seen any specialized cargo that have not passed our points.

As to countries of origin, I do not have the details and many of the cargo, once it is cleared and sponsored by a nation that is part of NATO and its partner we do not look into further details as we trust our partners, we trust our nations in NATO and we enable them to continue.

But more importantly, what we're seeing today is not arms movement. It's humanitarian assistance and it's the return of normalcy in the trade portion of it.

As far as people on the ground, whether it's security forces, AGF or others, anti-Qadhafi or otherwise, none of those forces are under NATO. This is NTC-led and they are the legitimate government and we do not. Our actions are simply to stop violence against the civilians as we see it from our various intelligence sources and as we see the situation develop. But all of this is not under NATO control, but rather under the NTC control.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Commander. Can you confirm that Jufra and Sabha are completely under rebel control already? And second question, if I may, are you worried that NATO will have sufficient means to continue to sustain the mission for an extra 90 days, given a little bit the divisions that we've seen in the past with more contributions solicited and not that many allies coming out with the commitment? Thank you.

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Thank you very much for your question. As of last night, in fact early this morning, as my map showed, the only area under significant regime control are the Bani Walid area, the Sirte area, and the last area, as shown on the map. So from my perspective, and the reports I had last night, it was the area of Waddan, Hun, Al Jufrah and also the Sabha area, were all under NTC control.

Finally, as to the resources that we have, as the requirement for our assets is more focalized in very specific points, we have sufficient assets to conduct this mission at this point, and I am confident, having spoken to the NATO authorities yesterday, and to several nations, that it is clear to me that those nations who are providing the assets are committed to see this mission to its successful completion. So I do not have any concern with regards to the provision of forces to enable this mission to succeed.

CARMEN ROMERO: General, can you listen to the translation, because we have a colleague who wants to ask a question in Arabic. So maybe if Roland could give you... that's okay? Okay, so we can go ahead, please.

Q: Yeah, (inaudible...) from Associated Press, Middle East. (SPEAKING IN ARABIC...).

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: I will require a translation of the question, if possible.

CARMEN ROMERO: You have the translation, General?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: No, I do not have the translation, Carmen.

CARMEN ROMERO: Go to now in French, no, in English, okay.

Q: No, in English. Okay. Richard Werly from the Swiss Daily Le Temps. General, what about the military movements in the deep south of Libya? I'm thinking of Qadhafi forces trying to escape to the neighbouring countries. Could you give us information about that? Could you confirm any movement? And what about this convoy that we have heard of going to Niger, for example? Have you been able to make sure those convoys are not transporting arms?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, first of all our mission is not an arms control mission, but one of protecting the population, enforcing a No-Fly Zone and enforcing an embargo. I'm well aware of the movements to the south, but without the troops on the ground... NATO has no troops on the ground, so without troops on the ground it's impossible for us to verify and to know the specifics of the cargos.

But our mission is not one of search and destroying these forces. These forces are moving away from the populations. They've decided that their actions were not appropriate or that they could not handle the pressure of NATO and therefore have opted to leave the country. And as far as my mandate is concerned, these are troops that are going away, are no longer causing risk or harm to the population and therefore are left to the individual governments of those nations where the troops are going to deal with that. It becomes a national issue, not one of NATO.

CARMEN ROMERO: Belga, please.

Q: Yes, General Bouchard, Gérard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. According to the intelligence you have, are you aware of some weapons having been taken out from the Qadhafi stockpiles and where have they been going?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, here again it is... with the force that I was given and the mission I was given it's very difficult for us to assess what has left the country and what hasn't. Certainly there are several weapons caches, thousands, in fact, of weapons caches, and I can assure you that not all of the weapons have stayed behind. It is a concern to the international community as to these weapons leaving the country, but it is very difficult from our mission perspective to ascertain the details of what weapons have left the country. And here again it will behove the international community to continue their work to prevent proliferation of weapons, of conventional weapons, and to ensure that these weapons are retaken, turned back for destruction and accounted for.

CARMEN ROMERO: A follow-up from Swiss media.

Q: Yes, General, regarding Bani Walid and Sirte, thanks to your facility to observe the situation on the ground, though NATO troops are not on the ground, what kind of military means the pro-Qadhafi forces have inside of those two cities?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, it's obviously even by the reporting of the media itself that they continue to have multiple rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and surface-to-air weapons and a myriad of small arms as well. Even tanks and armoured vehicles are still in those locations. So they still present a significant threat to the population and it behoves us to continue to look for those and where required, ensuring that they are neutralized.

CARMEN ROMERO: Now, General, I will translate for you the question we got from the correspondent from APTN Middle East. Two questions, in fact. The first one is: After this mission what will NATO's role be in Libya? And the second one is, can you confirm that chemical weapons have been found in Libya?

Over to you, General.

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, first of all, our mission is very specific and on completion of the mission of OUP I will provide the chain of command my assessment that when we have met the objectives that have been assigned to us by the North Atlantic Council.

As to the future role of NATO in Libya it is one that the North Atlantic Council will direct us, whether through our own mission or through a new mission, and it'll be one that will be made by the North Atlantic Council.

My mission is very specific. Once we've obtained our objectives I will inform my chain of command accordingly.

There are chemical weapons in the area, or I should say, not chemical weapons, but chemicals. They are not weaponized. We are aware of the location. We're monitoring them and we will continue.

These are the same weapons that were present and have been present for 30 years, and I should say again, these are not weapons, but rather chemicals and they have not been weaponized. And we are monitoring the situation to ensure that these do not leave their current location and that they are dealt with as soon as possible when the environment permits it through international agencies.

CARMEN ROMERO: I'd like to reinforce what the General just said regarding the first question, which is what really matters now is what is happening right now, which means that NATO is fulfilling the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970, 1973. This mandate, by the way, has been in force, but the new United Nations Security Council Resolution 2009, and this is what really matters right now.

Next question, ZDF.

Q: And Kai Niklasch again from German Television ZDF. General, Bouchard, when the last three spots you had described a few minutes ago are under NATO control is the NATO mission over then? Will you think that your mission is completed? Or is this completed when you have caught Qadhafi?

This is my first question. And the second one, there was an audio message from Qadhafi a few days ago. It was broadcast in Syria, as far as my memory serves me, and the question is, do you have any intelligence information that he might be there or do you think he's still in the country?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, first of all, the mission of NATO... of OUP, will be completed when the NAC directs me to complete the mission. I will make recommendations once we are satisfied that organized regime violence against the population have stopped and once we have met our objectives then we will inform the chain of command appropriately, and from there seek further directions as to where we will go from there. Whether it'll be the termination of this operation or others, will be for the North Atlantic Council, through SHAPE, to provide us directions as to our future activities and force disposition.

With regards to Qadhafi, as I said before I do not know his whereabouts. I really do not know his whereabouts. As you know, in the world we live in today messages can originate from one place, but easily find their way and to be released through other medias.

What we find right now is the media station in Libya... or correction, in Syria, is providing an outlet to provide these information's, but I do not know where they are originating and I do not know where Qadhafi is.

CARMEN ROMERO: I would like to support what the General just said in the sense that the North Atlantic Council will decide when the mission will terminate based on a political military assessment and basically what's important is that our operation will continue as long as there are threats for the civilians, not one day longer.

Any questions? You would like... yes, yes.

Q: Yes, General, maybe a follow-up about those three spots still under control of Qadhafi forces. Your assessment, is there any chance for those Qadhafi forces to break through and escape from those three spots at the moment? Or do you think they'll have to surrender anyway?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Well, I don't think there's too many places left in Libya for regime forces to go. The majority of the country is under NTC control and anti-Qadhafi control and my assessment of the situation is that these areas are surrounded. It's one of... we're now at a point where I could only urge regime forces to surrender, to bring an end to these activities and to find a peaceful settlement.

But clearly if they opt not to do that and continue to threaten the population, we will take all necessary means to bring that to an end.

CARMEN ROMERO: Any more...

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Excuse me, if I may add. As far as a breakthrough from the forces, the forces are no longer capable of coordinated action anywhere in the country. What we're now witnessing is tactical, very localized actions by a group of forces who does not intend to terminate this in a peaceful fashion.

CARMEN ROMERO: Sorry, for interrupting you earlier. Anymore questions from Brussels?

Well, before we move to Naples, I have received a question from a journalist who is watching online. I speak about Alexander (inaudible) from (inaudible) and his question is the following one: Does NATO have an intention to supply weapons to the new authorities of Libya? If I may, General, I will answer by saying that this is not part of NATO's mandate. NATO's mandate is to protect civilians following the mandate given to us by the resolutions that I mentioned earlier. And NATO is not a supplier of weapons anyway.

General, is there anything you would like to add to answer this question?

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: I could not have said it better myself. Thank you very much, Carmen.

CARMEN ROMERO: Well now I think it's time to hand over to Naples for any possible questions from journalists there. Please, Roland.

LTGEN CHARLES BOUCHARD: Carmen, I'm being informed that there are no questions from Naples, so back to you. Perhaps if you will allow me, if this brings this meeting to an end, is again to highlight the great work of 28 nations and four partners who are dedicated to make Libya a better place, and to provide an opportunity for people to freely decide for themselves how they want to live their lives in the future.

That completes my part, Carmen. Thank you very much.

CARMEN ROMERO: Thank you very much, General. Goodbye.