Press briefing on Libya

by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu, joined by Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, Chief of Allied Operations, Allied Command Operations (SHAPE)

  • 05 Apr. 2011
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  • Last updated: 06 Apr. 2011 12:43

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): The North Atlantic Council met this morning . Nations were given a detailed update from the Commander of Operation Unified Protector, L t Gen Charlie Bouchard on our prevent and protect mission in Libya -- preventing attacks and the threat of attacks in order to protect the civilian population and civilian centres, as mandated by the United Nations. As you know, our partner nations, Qatar, UAE and Sweden are now routinely participating in air operations over Libya , which is tangible evidence that NATO is part of the broader international effort .

This afternoon, the NAC will be meeting again with Dr. Jean Ping, the Chairman of the African Union, to discuss the situation in Libya and ensure full transparency, as part of the wider agenda of consulations between NATO and the African Union.

The Secretary General was in Turkey yesterday to discuss the full agenda that we have before us as we prepare for the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Berlin next week. But he will brief you about that himself on Monday 11 April at 1400. And with that, I am happy to introduce you to Brigadier General Mark van Uhm, Chief of Allied operations at SHAPE, who will brief on NATO's o perations in Libya in support of UNSCR 1973.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM (Chief of Allied Operations, Allied Command Operations, SHAPE): Thank you for the introduction.

The arms embargo part of the mission started on the 23rd of March. Currently 18 ships and submarines from nine nations are enforcing the arms embargo in the maritime approaches to Libya. These maritime assets are supported by several surveillance planes.

To date 76 ships in total have been hailed; 28 yesterday. So far there have been no violations of the arms embargo. So the arms embargo effectively assists in reducing the flow of arms, related material and mercenaries into Libya.

Normal shipping activities continue in the Mediterranean Sea. Ships are told exactly what to do and if they follow the instructions they can proceed with minimum disturbance. Yesterday, for example, two ships were inbound for the Tripoli harbour and three ships were outbound of Benghazi and Tripoli harbours.

The no-fly zone is in effect. Nations are providing the assets we need to ensure that no non-authorized aircraft enters or exits Libyan air space. Libyan air force aircraft are not flying anymore as of mid-March. In order to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack or threat of an attack, 14 strikes were executed yesterday. A number of those strikes were in the Misrata area, which hit pro-regime air defence systems, tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Around Brega we struck a rocket launcher that was firing. And elsewhere targets included ammunition storage facilities. In these strikes a number of nations were involved.

With the arms embargo and the no-fly zone in effect, we as NATO deconflict our operations with necessary humanitarian assistance flights, shipments and ground moves into and inside Libya. We have to do this deconfliction in order to ensure that these humanitarian movements can be done in a safe way.

Over the last few days we have been notified about a total of 17 humanitarian movements, eight of which were maritime, five by air and four by ground movement.

That's all I have for my opening statement, but I'm more than happy to take questions.

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): And we'll go to AFP.

Q: Pascal Mallet, Agence France-Presse, AFP. General, two questions. First, if I understood you mentioned 14, one-four, strikes were executed yesterday. If that does include as well reconnaissance and targeting missions it means that in one day we... the number of missions fell down from 58 because of bad weather, and the day before it was 70, according to Naples figures, and now that the U.S. have left, or maybe not because the U.S. have left, we have only 14 missions, strike sorties. Could you explain?

Second question, do you consider it normal that a certain number of forces are still not under NATO command, including important assets like U.S. drones, which are very useful for many things, as you know, including an entire French (inaudible) group with one aircraft carrier, plus two frigates, plus one submarine, meaning 16 planes of the French navy are flying without, if I understand, under national command only. It was the same with the amphibious ship with U.S. marines the day before. I don't understand how I can still write that NATO took command of anything.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Okay, to address your first question, in total, yesterday the number of sorties was 150. Out of those 150 sorties there were 58 strike sorties. But as you probably know, that strike sorties are intended to identify and engage appropriate targets, but do not necessarily deploy munitions every time.

So the 14 strike sorties I mentioned were strike sorties that used ammunition and they hit targets as I made clear in my opening statement.

So it's 150 in total, 58, 14 used munitions. That's clear for you?

With regards to the forces under NATO command, I think in general we can say that the commander of the Joint Task Force, General Bouchard, has the assets he needs to execute his mission under his command.

Q: How do you coordinate, and who is responsible?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: He is commanding those assets that have been formally transferred their authority from the nation to NATO and he's commanding those forces, and that he has to do the job with, I would like to say.


Q: Yes, Alvise Armellini German Press Agency, DPA. Two questions, if I may. One was, there were some reports over the weekend about rebel fighters being hit by NATO planes. Do you have any information on the investigations that were conducted on this?

And the second question is, I'm still confused about my colleague's previous answer. I mean, last week we were reporting that NATO had taken sole control of operations against Libya, and I stress the word sole, so now it doesn't seem that this is the case, so what is the situation? Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Okay, with regards to the reports over the weekend, you referred to the Brega incident, well, we have looked into the incident and with all that we know today our assessment is that it has been an unfortunate accident, and of course, you have noticed that the opposition forces have already stated that it was their fault that they have been giving some celebratory fire in the air, which attract the reaction and they already learned their lesson out of that and they have now moved those very enthusiastic young people away from the front line and have directed more experienced people to the front line, and they have given clear directions that those celebratory fires should not be used anymore.

Q: (Inaudible...).

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Yes. Well, I think it's pretty clear that NATO is in command of the Operation Unified Protector, so NATO is in the lead.


Q: Yes, General, you said yesterday there were 14 air strikes. Can you give us a rundown on the previous three days? How many air strikes were carried the first three days? Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: I don't have the exact numbers of strikes the previous day, but I have an overall number. When we look at the total of strike sorties conducted, and we have the total of 334. But I don't have a breakdown in more detail at the moment here with me. But this is the total I have here.

OANA LUNGESCU: What we have is a total of 851 sorties and 334 strike sorties, but as the General was explaining, strike sorties identify, engage targets, they don't necessarily strike targets every time. And I think you can safely assume that the operational tempo continues unabated.

Al Arabiya.

Q: Noureddine Fridhi from Al Arabiya News Channel. I have a couple of questions that are these two or three days there have been reports about suggesting that al-Qaeda is supplying itself from this, let's say, Libyan bazaar of arms, which is some cars left to north of Niger and some other reports are suggesting that the former detainers from Guantanamo are in the front line with the revolutionary of the... You have your own intelligence and you have the intelligence of the allies. Can you confirm these reports?

I have a second question. It's about the relationship between NATO and the Transitional National Council. Because some of the allies are recognizing and even supplying them arms or equipment. Does NATO have any contact with the Transitional National Council and if not when you will have a kind of liaison officer with the Transitional National Council? Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: With regards to your first question, I don't have detailed information about what you were saying about those people in the front line. I don't have any detail about that. With regard to your question, with the relation of NATO with the TCN, there is no contact.

OANA LUNGESCU: Obviously, as you know, some NATO allies and partners have recognized the Transitional National Council; France, Italy and Qatar have already done so, but NATO as an Alliance has no contact with the Transitional National Council. (Inaudible).

Q: General, slightly confused about this command and control issue. I mean, perhaps you could clarify it. To say that NATO is in the lead suggests to me is slightly different from what the Secretary General announced several days ago and termed to fill command and control, and total command and control. Could you detail what forces taking part in the various issues are not under NATO command and control? And, for example, do these figures, 851 sorties in total 334 strike sorties, does that refer purely to NATO commanded sorties, or to everybody?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: The numbers of sorties I gave you were all executed under NATO command.

Yes, of course, there are assets under national control in the area, but the commander on... Lieutenant General Bouchard, he's commanding all those assets that are under command of NATO. And they are doing the operation. So if a national has national assets which they want to employ under national control that's not under NATO command, but it has to be, of course, if they want to do it, it has to be coordinated with NATO.


Q: Two questions. Following up on my colleagues' questions about the amount of fire power used in the first days of the NATO strikes, I understand that you don't have numbers on the number of strikes sorties that actually led to actual strikes, but can you give us some sort of a comparison as to the amount of fire power used in the days since NATO took over control to the beginning of the operations in the middle of march.

And the other questions, a question regarding shipping and the naval blockade. There was a petrol tanker that arrived in Tripoli port today to deliver petrol and fuel... fuel supplies to Gaddafi forces. Based on what you were saying I presume that the argument for allowing this truck to come through is because it's commercial shipping.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: With regards to the fire power I think we all have seen over the last days and weeks that it's a dynamic situation that has evolved over time. And the situation in Libya and for example, also the targets that are being presented, have changed since the coalition started the operations and since NATO has taken over.

So I think it's not possible to make a good comparison because the situation has changed. But in general terms we as NATO now generate this roughly saying the same amount of sorties as the coalition did in the early days.

Q: (Inaudible...).

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Yeah, about... I don't have the details about the ship with the petrol coming in, but as I said, within the Mediterranean Sea we want commercial shipping to be executed as normal as possible without the minimum disturbance and this ship, which I don't know for sure, if that's a commercial shipment, then it has to continue.

OANA LUNGESCU: We are enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 on the arms embargo.


Q: Yes, sir, you mentioned that yesterday there was a strike on a rocket launcher firing near Brega. You mentioned this rocket launcher that was hit while it was firing. Now, there's been fighting there between the two sides. Was the rocket launcher firing at civilians or at the rebel forces because if it was firing at the rebel forces the obvious implication is that NATO is taking sides.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: I don't have the details about to which target those rockets were firing, but they were firing as they were targeted. But I also want to make clear is that what we have seen is that pro-Gaddafi forces have changed their tactics over days and what we see that they more and more are using trucks, light vehicles, to move the operational to the front line and that they are keeping, as we military call it, their more heavy equipment, like tanks and other stuff, armoured vehicles, in their second echelon.

So what you see is that the opposition forces are being confronted with more lightly pro-Gaddafi forces, and they don't see the second echelon because they're far behind.

So what we've now tried to achieve is that we try to identify where those heavy assets, like tanks and armoured vehicles are, because we have seen that they have chosen to hide themselves into urban areas, even using human shields in order to be not targeted. So the effect of what we are doing is already that he is hiding this heavy assets, but is also is preventing him from using those assets and therefore they cannot be a threat to the civilian population. So without even targeting them we already have in effect that he can't use them.

Q: Gaddafi forces...

OANA LUNGESCU: Please introduce yourself.

Q: Yes, Dubai Television. Gaddafi forces need fuel for tanks for vehicles. Is NATO considering fuel as arms supplies or civilian and commercial supplies for the embargo?

Now... je peux dire en français? Gaddafi forces... do you consider the fuel and petrol as arms? Because Gaddafi forces are urgently in need for fuel now and you said that NATO have only to respect the arms embargo, but the (inaudible)... the consul in Benghazi said that the fuel is a kind of arms.

Second question, do you have any idea of the impact of the NATO strike over the military capacity of Gaddafi?

OANA LUNGESCU: Could you repeat the second one, please?

Q: Do you have any idea of the impact of the NATO strikes over the Gaddafi forces now?

OANA LUNGESCU: On your first question, my recollection is that the UN Security Council Resolution concerns the supply, sale or transfer of arms, but we can look into that.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: On your second question, I just echo what General Bouchard told the North Atlantic Council this morning and that his assessment is that we have taken out 30 percent of the military capacity of the pro-Gaddafi forces.

OANA LUNGESCU: Daily Telegraph.

Q: Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph. I'm sorry to come back to this question of command and control. We were told very categorically that when NATO received full command and control that the coalition was over in terms of military operations. Can you just tell us... I mean, my colleague from AFP detailed some national assets. Are those national assets being used for military operations outside NATO's command and control? Are any of those assets that are American and French being used outside NATO's command and control?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: The coalition is over. NATO is in command. And as I said earlier, we use for NATO-led operations those assets that have been formally transferred to NATO. And I said there are still national assets in the area, but they are not commanded by NATO. And if a nation wants to use them they can do two things. They can additionally transfer the authority to NATO, or if they want to employ it on a national basis they have to coordinate that with NATO.

Q: (Inaudible...).

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Not at (inaudible). That is really happening at the moment.

OANA LUNGESCU: But remember, we're just in day six of Operation Unified Protector.


Q: Marion von Haaren. General, you mentioned weapon embargo is working now, but what about weapons coming from other countries, from Chad, from Somalia and other countries by land?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: The arms embargo, what we are doing, is securing the maritime part of it and that but goes by air, so what comes in by land we have also asked the neighbouring countries to make a broader effort to make sure that no weapons are going into Libya.

Q: (Inaudible...) about it?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: I don't have information about what the neighbouring countries are doing or if they are already have seen possible violations or whatever.

I want to add... bring one more detail with regards to the command and control relations. We have known that on a national basis humanitarian assistance movements have been executed using national assets to provide a maritime escort or even a plane flying above a ship. And that's what I mean with national operations coordinated with NATO using national assets.

So you could say that nothing is happening without NATO knowing and being coordinated on a national basis.


Q: Yes, Marie Sole Tognazzi from ANSA Italian News Agency. Is ways about the embargo, weapon embargo. According to a (inaudible) this morning, NATO forces block four ships for the rebels carrying food and weapon. And they were left from Benghazi to Misrata. My question is what happen now to these ships? I mean, is normal so to block ships that are carrying food, not only weapons?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Yes, I say the situation is very dynamic and fluid, so operations are ongoing as we speak. Our task force at sea will continue to enforce the armed embargo. If arms are discovered they will be confiscated, but if there is aid or other things, like you mentioned, are on board they will be allowed to continue to the destination and so they can proceed with where they are going, to their destination.

OANA LUNGESCU: Remember that boarding and searching are routine parts of our operation.

Q: Yes, Gerard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. I would like to ask you if you can provide us some more details concerning the coordination between NATO forces and national assets? How and where does it take place?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Well, as you know, the operational headquarters is in Naples where the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force, General Bouchard, is working, together with his headquarters, and if on the operational level coordination has to be done that's the place where the coordination is happening.

Q: (Inaudible...) with liaison officer or...?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: There are many ways to do that, including liaison officers.

Q: (Inaudible...), German Television ZDF. How can I imagine the practice? If the France would like to fly an attack will they inform NATO or will they just do it? Or will they ask NATO for the permission to do it? What is the procedure?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: France is one of the nations that are in this operation so there is no need for them to do it on a national basis. They are part of the NATO operations.

Q: A follow-up, please, but you just said they are doing their own thing, so I would like to understand... are they asking NATO for the possibility to do it or are they just doing it? So what is...

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: I will explain to you how that works.

Nations now have transferred their assets to NATO command, so we use them for NATO operations. Every nation wants to do an operation like assistance for humanitarian shipment, but what they can do is that they temporarily, what we call chop back that asset to national control for the time they needed for the national operation. And when that operation is over then they can go back to NATO command being transferred again. That's the way it can be done. You understand?

OANA LUNGESCU: We are talking about humanitarian operations and protection of humanitarian operations under national responsibility. We're not talking about air sorties.

Over there, Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thank you, just to clarify that, so the operations that are under national command, none of those operations under national commands would be air sorties, air strikes. Every air strike, every air sortie under the protection of civilians, under the no-fly zone, would be directly under NATO command? That's the first question.


Q: Secondly, if there are separate commands for separate operations, such as humanitarian operations, I think military advice in the past is separate commands is a kind of sub-optimal situation because you have a greater likelihood of friendly fire incidents and that kind of thing. Would you say the current situation then is sub-optimal.

The third question relates to ground controllers. A number of sources in Libya, opponents of the regime, have said that NATO ground controllers are in place in Libya. Now, I'm told that that may be under national... if that's the case, that would be under national... that would be done by national militaries. My question is, if they are by national militaries, is NATO forbidden to use ground controllers with boots on the ground in Libya from directing strikes in Libya?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Okay, I can absolutely say that all air sorties are executed under NATO command, except for those humanitarian assistance flights of which a nation wants to escort themselves. That can be. So that is on a national basis. But all these strikes, sorties, are being flown under NATO command.

With regards to your separate commands, of course if you do things on a national basis you have to coordinate that and that's the way it has to be done, but that's the only way you can do it, but it can be done. And with regards to your ground controllers, there are no ground controllers on the ground from NATO.

Q: (Inaudible...) directing NATO strikes.


OANA LUNGESCU: Remember under UNSCR 1973 there are no ground operations.

Financial Times.

Q: Yes, General, Peter Spiegel from the Financial Times. Can I ask you to focus on Misrata for a second. You mentioned in your opening statement 14 strikes in the last 24 hours. I think your wording was that many of them were in Misrata. Can you give an actual figure of how many were focused on that area? Because it does seem to be the city having the most dire situation right now?

Also, you mentioned this issue with tanks and other heavy equipment hiding in urban areas. Is that happening in Misrata as one of the examples?

And finally, because they're having humanitarian issues in the city, any thoughts to opening aid corridors or using NATO assets to do that, to help citizens and civilians in that area? Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: I don't want to go into exact details how many sorties go into Misrata or Brega or other areas. But absolutely Misrata is a number one priority because of the situation on the ground over there.

And we have absolute confirmation that in Misrata tanks are being dispersed, benign hidden, humans being used as shields in order to prevent NATO sorties to identify, target those assets. So that's happening in Misrata.

Currently there's no planning with regards to air corridor or whatever.

Q: General, can we understand from your comments on the unfortunate incident of Brega that you are defending on intelligence from the rebel troops or what is the situation exactly for intelligence? On the ground.

And my second question is related to the density. How do you evaluate the density of the movement of Gaddafi troops coming from Benghazi? From... I'm sorry, from Tripoli, from the west to the east?

OANA LUNGESCU: Sorry, can you introduce yourself, please?

Q: Ah, sorry. Tarek Mahmoud from the Middle East News Agency.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Okay, because we as NATO, we have no boots on the ground. It's very difficult to do an investigation or a battle damage assessment to make exactly get clarity what has happened.

So we are depending on the material we have, and of course, we get information via open sources, through press reports, through statements from opposition to get a clearer picture of what's happening there. But we cannot confirm ourselves because we are not on the ground ourselves.

With regards to movements and density we sure see that from the pro-Gaddafi forces their main efforts is in the east. So they are putting their forces in position with their main effort in the east and that's what we are seeing and analyzing.

Q: West to the east.


Q: How are still coming or they are now stationed in the eastern (inaudible)?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: When I talked about the changed tactics earlier we see that what is moving are those forces, those light forces using vehicles and trucks. The heavy equipment is not moving. They are hiding. They're dispersed not to be a target, but as soon as we see them starting moving and that's why we also are increasing the number of reconnaissance flights in order to be able to see if they are going to come out of their hiding to start moving towards the east, then they have a, what we call, a hostile intent then we can target them.

So we are closely monitoring where we know they are, and when they move out, we identify them and we can target them. But his main effort is in the east. So we are expected that he will move forces to the east.


Q: Good afternoon. Martinez de Rituerto from El País. A question dealing with the arms embargo. We've got reports that the Qatari government, a member of the coalition, or the operation, rather, is eager to sell arms to the opposition, the rebels. What would the NATO people do if arms from Qatar are entering Libya and how will NATO stop this operation?

OANA LUNGESCU: That's... of course, that's a hypothetical question. We are enforcing the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on the basis of what NATO allies have collectively agreed to do.

Q: But not... sorry...

OANA LUNGESCU: It is a hypothetical question.

Q: No... maybe the answer is hypothetical, but the question is not hypothetical. The Qatari government has said that they are eager to provide weapons. They are in the coalition, in the operation. So what are we doing when one of the members of us is supplying against the will of the United Nations weapons to the rebels? They are saying that they are going to do it, if they can.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: We've taken note of discussions in several nations about the interpretation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution. What you've said is hypothetical right now.

We have a question over there.

Q: Don Melvin, Associated Press. If you'll permit me, General, a layman's question as I try to inform laypeople, if I understand yesterday's statistics right about 75 percent of the planes that left on strike sorties return without deploying their munitions. Is that normal for combat in general, and with respect to Libya what are the most common reasons that they return without having deployed the munitions?

What may be a related question also is, as the perhaps easier targets were taken out earlier, has the pace dropped off, particularly since the United States has withdrawn both with respect to total sorties and with respect to actual strikes?

Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Is 75 percent normal? I think each conflict or each has its own characteristics so it's very hard to define what is normal in such a situation as we have, so with statistics you can go everywhere. So I won't want to say something about that if this is normal, comparable to other operations, other crisis areas, other wars. I don't... it's hard to say.

But of course, the reasons why don't they use their weapons, well, if they don't identify a target, or if they don't have a positive identification that is a target they are allowed to engage, or we see the target, but we see that there are also humans being used as shields, then we don't engage. And then they come back, they have identified, but not engaged. And then they come back with the ammunition.

I don't think that the pace has gone down. I think we have maintained a very high operational tempo, but what we have seen, of course, that in this dynamic situation, fluid situation on the ground every minute the situation has changed that we have seen that the change of tactics, we have seen that in the early days of the coalition, there were completely different targets being engaged. So the situation is totally different so don't compare it. But the operational tempo has stayed the same.

OANA LUNGESCU: Our duty, under the United Nations mandate, is to protect civilians. We take that duty very seriously. Unfortunately the Gaddafi regime doesn't take its duties as seriously. They are the ones who have been systemically attacking civilians, cities, using shells, tanks, snipes against civilians attacking their own people.

Q: Am I gathering that basically that human shields or weapons being hid in populated areas is one of the primary reasons that the planes are returning without dropping their munitions? Is that right?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: It's one of the reasons. And we also have had some impact of the weather a few days ago, that they could take off from their airfields, went across Libya where the weather was bad so they were not able to see what was happening on the ground. So, it's a combination of factors.

Q: Laurent Thomet with Agence France-Presse. You mentioned that General Bouchard said 30 percent of Gaddafi's military capability was taken out. Is that since NATO took over or since the March 19 coalition strikes began?

And also on the investigation on the incident a few days ago, could you tell us what planes from what country were involved in that incident? And do you consider this matter closed and nothing... there will be no repercussions to whoever decided to launch the strikes?

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: The first question about the percentage, that's the result of coalition and the NATO operations after that. The 30 percent ratio.

With regards... you call it an investigation. There is no formal investigation. We consider, as I told earlier, that this assessment of what has happened is closed.

Q: Surely you know what planes from what country were involved in the incident. Can you tell us that?


OANA LUNGESCU: We've said from the very start that we were looking into this incident. We take any reports of civilian casualties very seriously, but clearly if somebody fires on our aircraft, those aircraft have the right to fire. It is a right of self-defence and our forces have the right to self-defence in any NATO operation.

We have... yes, Ana over there.

Q: Thank you. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. General, I don't know if you can confirm how many air assets the United States have taken off under NATO control. I understand that U.K. has announced that they will be sending four extra Tornados. I understand that maybe there's a gap there in airlift capacity, especially to do these strikes. So I don't' know if you elaborate a little bit.

And just to be very clear, you said that national assets not under NATO control are today doing some humanitarian operation support. but in any case, any country operating inside NATO coalition or on the NATO mandate, could decide, if they wanted to, to do air strike operations under national asset. Do you have an agreement that this will not happen and that it will be kept under NATO control in the near future? I'm thinking if maybe we don't reach the number of assets we now need after U.S. has taken off some of theirs, very critical. Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Once again, all the air strikes are conducted under NATO command. Only if a nation decides on a national basis to support a humanitarian assistance flight or shipment to the use of... ship for an escort of planes to fly above that ship, they can do that on a national basis but they have to take those assets out of the NATO command and control structures and do it on a national basis, but of course that has to be coordinated so that we know.

With regards to the assets I think it's for nations to say what is their contribution or stopping their contribution. And with regards to what the U.S. has decided, they have decided that their strike assets are no longer immediately available for NATO operations, but they are continuing to provide other assets like air-to-air refuelling, assets in order to do intelligence surveillance operations, so they are still providing assets as part of this operation.

And of course, we are very happy that one nation already decided to bring in additional strike assets. And we are very happy for that. But it's for nations to declare what they contribute or when they stop and they pull back.

OANA LUNGESCU: We have lots of follow-up questions, but there's one last question from Brooks and I think we'll have to finish there.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. You say that there's been sniper fire and that use of human shields in close urban environments. Sniper fire can't be detected by AGSS, that's from abroad, from high up in altitude, nor do you know who's doing the sniping. And human shield activity is more accurately detected by close-in drones and so unless you are flying drones into an urban environment or you have intelligence on the ground to pinpoint and identity the snipers how do you know who the snipers are, and how do you know about the shield activity in close urban closed areas?

Thank you.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK VAN UHM: Yes, to detect where a sniper is and where he's firing from and where he's coming from, I think you're right he's hard to detect that from a plane above or from a drone. But human shields, before pilots from a plane engage a target, I think they can have a good feel whether there is a human shield being used or not.

Q: (Inaudible...) Gaddafi forces that are doing the sniping?

OANA LUNGESCU: It doesn't matter who does the sniping. We are protecting civilians from attack and the threat of attack and also protecting civilian populated areas from attack and the threat of attack. That is our mandate. That's what we're doing.

Thank you very much.