Press briefing

by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu and GpCapt Geoffrey Booth, Operations Division, International Military Staff

  • 25 Mar. 2011
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  • Last updated: 27 Mar. 2011 20:01

Oana Lungescu, NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much for coming to NATO.  Last night, NATO Allies decided to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

We are taking action as part of the broad international effort to protect civilians against attacks by the Gaddafi regime. We will cooperate with our partners in the region and welcome their contributions.

This is a very significant step taken by Allies in a short period of time. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 only Thursday last week. So in the course of a single week, NATO Allies have launched both the arms embargo and the no-fly zone operations. This is a clear demonstration of Allies’ commitment to fulfil their obligations under the UN mandate and to show their resolve to do what it takes to protect the people of Libya.

As NATO’s No fly zone operation prepares to conduct missions over Libya, the coalition operation will continue to put pressure on the Libyan regime. Under Operation Unified Protector, NATO ships, submarines and jets are cutting the flow of arms and mercenaries to Gaddafi’s forces. 

At the same time, NATO is actively considering whether to take on a broader role under the UN Security Council Resolution. Without prejudging the deliberations, we would expect a decision to take over all operationsin the next few days.

Our current mission is to close Libya's air-space to all flights except aid flights. NATO pilots and controllers will do everything they can to deny the Gaddafi regime any use of air power and they will do so with care and precision to avoid harming the people of Libya. 

The direction of NATO military operations is the responsibility of the North Atlantic Council. Joint Forces Command Naples will command the operation.

We expect that Ministers will set the wide political guidance at  next week's international conference in London to take forward the implementation of the UNSCR 1973.  The NATO Secretary General will attend the London conference. NATO is acting as part of the broader international effort in support of the people of Libya.

I have with me  Group Captain Geoffrey Booth, from NATO’s International Military Staff Operations Division – who will brief you on how No Fly zones operate.

Group Captain Geoffrey Booth,  from NATO : Good morning everyone. Let me just run through an outline of how a No Fly Zone would work and then perhaps I can come back and answer any questions.

First and foremost what we’re looking to do in a NFZ is prevent any air assets from attacking civilian populations. But importantly we are also putting in place the ability to allow authorised flight activity to continue during the operation of a NFZ.

How do we do that?  First is that you have to establish a good situational awareness of the area for which you are responsible and at this time it is particular focus on the coastal region of Libya.   We are there to discourage, deter and prevent all forces from conducting air operations unless specifically authorised.    And I would just make the point at this stage that NFZs are impartial. There is no one authorised to fly within that zone. It is not necessarily pro-Ghadaffi  or anti-Ghadaffi forces.  It is the impartial enforcement in line with the UNSCR of a NFZ,  except for those missions that are authorised.   Of course a part of that you provide an air to air response  to any NFZ violations and I’ll come back to that in a moment.  

But you also need to ensure the safe conduct of any other military operations that need to be carried out in the area.  In particular there will be coordination, monitoring and control over conduct of any approved flight activity. And as was mentioned earlier that may well be aid flights in and out of Libya at some stage.    

Just to clarify then on providing an air to air response. It is not something that is necessarily, immediately that anything that flies is shot down. There is a careful command and control situation, usually making use of an airborne warning and control aircraft ,AWACS, as I’m sure you have heard of it before, they provide information and a control and command  link back to the commander   for the tactical aircraft enforcing the NFZ.      

Within this, we are actually in the  process of taking over something that is already established   and I am sure many people have questions on how that will occur.  But  once the timing is worked out to take over the operation lead time has to be allowed for the     combat air operations centre which is in   Izmir  for this operation to get  full briefings from the Chain of Command on the situation as it  pertains, the   forces in place and then develop its own set of orders.      This is fairly straightforward,  certainly for the crews and the aircraft enforcing the NFZ,   because they get specific briefings on the situation, the rules of engagement etc.  before they fly.  So in many respects  this will be transparent at the lower levels,   as the handover takes place.

As I say, because the NFZ  is already in place.  Within those actions  there are a number of things that can be done. It is not just a question of shooting down aircraft   because they happen to be there.  Aircraft may inadvertently come  into the NFZ from outside of the airspace,   there may be other reasons for air activity  so you go through a process of  intercept, intervene  and potentially engagement but     the principle that we use in any NFZ  is always to apply the minimum force    required to achieve the effect. And that’s where there are some very clear Rules of Engagement laid out   for the crews   to make decisions on what they do and pretty much always  refer up the Chain of Command    for further guidance and authority on what to do next.

 I think at that stage without going into too much further technical details.  I leave it there any  and come back at a later stage.

Oana Lungescu:  Thank you very much Geoffrey.

Just to let you know  we have probably until 11.30 but this may be only the first of future briefings, we’ll meet again no doubt.  I think David had the first question.

David Charter, the Times:   Could you just confirm that if the Izmir base  is to run the flights to patrol the NFZ,  does that mean that, forgive my ignorance, does that mean that  a Turkish airman is in charge or who is in charge of day to day operations for NATO?

Group Captain Geoffrey Booth: I’m not certain who the exact commander  is at Izmir.  But it is somebody in the NATO appointment, someone of NATO nationality and context.  He could be Turkish , US   he  could be someone of any of the nations, but it is somebody in the NATO appointment within those Headquarters.  Who is in charge at the Izmir base  I don’t know immediately the nationality of the commander.

Q:  [Inaudible] ... commander of NIDS?

Group Captain Geoffrey Booth: The overall command of the operation rests at Joint Force Command at  Naples.  I don’t know the details at this stage of who an individual has been nominated.

Peter Winkler, Neue Zuercher Zeitung: In the last week there have been several air strikes against ground  targets in Libya.  How does this come in with an interdiction of all unauthorised flights or will these flights still be authorised?

Group Captain Geoffrey Booth:  If there is a requirement for operations to be conducted outside of the    NFZ mandate, i.e. that would be a liaison with the coalition, that would have to be a nominated and notified flight so that the NATO Chain of Command is aware of those flights that carry on. My understanding at this stage is that the majority of those missions  appear to have been successful and therefore I would assume are close to completion.    But I can’t say at this stage if    coalition flights need to continue outside of the NATO mandate that would have to be done through a coordination process through the Chain of Command for those flights to be allowed in and out of the air space.

Oana Lungescu:  And obviously NATO and the coalition will ensure coordination and  deconfliction for as long as   these operations run in parallel. As I said NATO ambassadors have decided to actively consider  taking over the full UN mandate. Obviously   we cannot    prejudge those deliberations Those  are important political deliberations.  All 28 allies have to   reach consensus. We would expect a decision on that within the next few days.

Dieter Ebeling, German Press Agency:  Following this up. Is my understanding correct that if NATO is taking over that broader role within the next couple of days,  this would be …inaudible…that the end of the coalition that  then all military decisions perhaps under the political advice of representatives of the participating countries but all  military decisions  would be made by NATO authorities.

Oana Lungescu: That at this stage, of course, is a hypothetical question.  What I can say is that the politcal direction of any NATO military operation is the responsibility of the North Atlantic Council, the 28 ambassadors of the allied nations.  So command and control of NATO military operations of course is NATO’s business.

Now NATO is taking action as part of the broader international effort to fulfill the UN mandate.  We will fully include contributing partners from Arab countries and other nations in our deliberations and as I said Ministers meeting next Tuesday in London are expected to set the wide political guidance.  The  Secretary General will be in London and he will take part in those deliberations.   We are acting in coordination with, as part of, the broad international efforts   to protect  civilians  from the continuing  violence of the Khadaffi regime.

Kuwait News Agency, Kuna :  Oana, which Arab countries are participating or will participate  in the NFZ?

Oana Lungescu:  I can’t give you any details right now. What I can say is that the Secretary General has spoken to several Arab leaders, leaders of Arab partner countries and they’ve welcomed NATO’s decision to implement the UN mandate to enforce the NFZ.

Q: David Brunnstrom, Reuters:   Could you tell us how many aircraft are likely to be needed on a daily basis overall in  this sort of mission? 

Group Captain Booth:  I don’t have the numbers immediately at my fingertips but in essence it is a variable.  Depending upon the situation.  So it is very difficult for me to just come up with a number off the top of my head.   What I think is perhaps best is that if we see how the situation develops then we can come back with and give an answer to you in due course rather than me just trying to pluck numbers off the top of my head.  NFZs are resource intensive  if you are going to do this 24 hours a day,   7 days a week it requires a significant number of aircraft and supporting assets.

Q:  Dozens or hundreds?

A: Dozens I would say, not hundreds  

Q:  Sonomut, NTV Turkey: Captain, I was going to ask with regard to the composition if it’s  24/7 it’s at least 2 AWACS, it’s at least air refillment, so two or one one or two KC135 to refuel  are protection of the tankers and AWACS with pilots and fighters. Can you give us at least the type  of forces we need, second  the Rules of Engagement so if there is a threat coming from the ground to NATO airplanes , in which kind of rules could they answer to these threats   …whether there is a threshold on the flights whether they are low flights, high flights,   10,000ft, 15,000ft, 18,000ft etc, etc, and where all these planes will be based Naples, Geilenkirchen  or will it come from Kunia  or from where else to provide the material?

Group Captain Booth: The assets that are likely to be involved, you will have, if I go back to my initial point of situational awareness, AWACS of course is well known in that capacity and has been operating recently in the Mediterranean anyway. That will continue.  So there will be AWACS coverage. They will provide that 24/7.  You effectively do that with 3 aircraft per day.  On top of that  there will and there will be other surveillance assets to produce effective intelligence pictures of  what is going on within the area. Then you have the fighter aircraft that will actually enforce the NFZ;  those are the ones that you’ve probably already seen pictures of  on the media,  and will go on a  type of combat patrol in communication with the AWACS, and they will react to anything that then comes into the airspace.   

Going to your point about what happens if there is a threat.  Well, Rules of Engagement are in place of that; everybody operates  within  a right of self defence  That’s a fundamental rule of engagement for all operations. So if they are directly targeted, the crews are able to act in self defence. If however, they are just threatened then  there are  Rules of Engagement that allow you  to report that back through the Chain of Command and react to those as required..  Sorry was there a final point to the question?

Question: With regard to the flight  high low altitude mission, etc.?

Group Captin Geoffrey Booth: Well at this stage my understanding is that there is no delineation between high or low, clearly your reaction and response depends upon the environment of which the aircraft comes.  If it is something that is flying through the airspace at medium to high level and appears to be a civil airliner then that is not something that is an immediate threat to people on the ground.  So you  respond accordingly  to that  and would take action to get the aircraft to leave the airspace.  If its an attack helicopter at low level that appears to be already firing on somebody then you react accordingly.

[inaudible] public Radio:   At what time exactly will NATO takeover the command of the NFZ and before this is done will there be some kind of interruption or formal end of the coalition activities  as Turkey has reportedly demanded?

Group Captain Booth:  The exact timings as yet I am not privy to.  Clearly there was a decision late last night.  From my own experience I would say that the  air operation centre that will take over, this probably needs 48hrs to produce  its own set of tasking orders and requirements.  So it allows really a period of time for briefings from the senior command elements of the coalition operation, to make sure that their NATO counterparts   are fully briefed on what has been done,    what is in place and how that will continue.   I suspect that for many of the crews if you like, at the tactical level enforcing the NFZ, this will be completely  transparent. 

They will get airborne with a briefing and a set of Rules of Engagement and a set of orders that has come either from the coalition and then at some point you are briefed and you are now operating under NATO rules. It’s actually more routine than you think within that context. I do not have a specific time. I do not believe there will be any break in the NFZ  which is already in place.  There will be no window of opportunity for people to exploit that changeover.

Q:  (inaudible) …..coalition operations to have a clear distinction this now the coalition operation ends and now NATO takes over …..

Group Captain Booth:  that can be done symbolically  but if you are enforcing a NFZ for 24/7 then  there needs to be no break physically in patrolling the NFZ.

Oana Lungescu:  We assume that this will be done in a matter of days and that any transition  will be seamless.

Question: You said the Rules of Engagement  is right of self defence but after you start  enforcing the NFZ it is very likely that the aggression will come from the ground. At that point self defence means bombing the ground. So what difference will be between the coalition activities and the NATO activities.   You will still be doing a NFZ plus.

Group Captain Booth: I am not sure that is quite correct.  Basically, if you have a threat to you specifically from the ground,  not talking here about whether pro Libya forces, pro-Ghadaffi forces or non pro-Ghadaffi forces, are fighting.  What I am saying is if you are threatened  by say a surface to air missile system that’s  stopping you enforcing the NFZ,   you have the right of self defence.  If  air to air anti aircraft guns attack you as an aircraft enforcing the NFZ,  you have the right  to respond.  The NFZ does not give you the right to just go if you like, as you put it,  bomb targets on the ground.  

Oana Lungescu: May I stress that NATO operates fully within the UN mandate and that mandate is the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Thomas:  The Qatarian Emirates  planes do they talk to you, do they take orders from you, or do they only answer to the coalition at this stage and how big remains the threat of Libyan air defence after one week of operations?

Group Captain Booth:  I personally don’t have any details at this stage about the arrangements for the Qatari aircraft.   We have significant  experience  in current NATO operations of non NATO partners joining the operation; that detail will have to be worked out. They would then at some stage come under NATO command and control within that process, with   the Rules of Engagement     they would have to accept to participate.   As most operations it is not just NATO forces,     As I understand at the moment, those forces are only through the coalition.  So that would be something that would be developed in due course.  What was the second part of your question?

Q: How big is the threat from Libyan air defence after one week of bombing?

Group Captain Booth:  It is difficult for me in a position here  to give you categorical answer on that. I would say that from my reading of the situation it has been  significantly degraded.

Oana Lungescu: Thomas, obviously, Qatar is one of NATO’s long established and valued partners in the region. There are many countries in the region that have well-established links with NATO and so this is something that we will build on in this NATO led operation.

Nourredine Fridhi:   question inaudible

Group Captain Booth:  I’ll just cover that last point first.  The NFZ is  established over the entire area of Libya.  The focus particularly on situational awareness initially has been on the coastal regions because that is where the, effectively militarily, that is where the concentration forces are, so that is where you need to know specifically what is going on. As for the embargo area the NFZ is complimentary to the embargo but the NFZ specifically covera the airspace over Libya; the other aspects of the embargo I do not have the detail of …. I leave that to you Oana.

Oana Lungescu: Obviously the arms embargo operates all along the Libyan coast.

On relations with Arab nations, as I have told you the Secretary General has had and continues to have contacts with leaders from the region. They welcome NATO’s contribution. These are long established valued partners and they have experience of working with NATO and NATO will fully include contributing partners from Arab countries, from other nations in its deliberations.  This is part of the broad international effort to support the people of Libya.

Thank you very much that’s all we have time for and will probably see you again.