Press briefing on Libya

by NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu and Mike Bracken, Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector

  • 10 Jun. 2011
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  • Last updated: 11 Jun. 2011 14:13

Oana Lungescu: (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon to this operational briefing on Operation Unified Protector. As ever we have the operations military spokesman, Wing Commander Mike Bracken just walking up to the microphone in Naples. Just a few words from me to kick off.

As you know, NATO Defence Ministers this week made clear that they're determined to fulfil the mandate of the United Nations to provide all the resources necessary for as long as it is necessary to accomplish our mission. This is, of course, the military track.

On the political track, the International Contract Group on Libya met in Abu Dhabi yesterday. NATO was represented by the Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs, Dirk Brengelmann, and the statement of the co-chairs made clear that consensus is growing around the world, that the time has come to open a new chapter in Libya's history. Qadhafi must go. He has lost all legitimacy and must draw all the consequences by relinquishing power.

The participants appreciated the effective role played by the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector in protecting the civilian population from Qadhafi's attacks, and in achieving the goals of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The Contact Group also welcomed the decision to extend the NATO operation by 90 days and increase national contributions to the operation, and they also encouraged further contributions to NATO's efforts.

Finally, the Contact Group agreed on the necessity to reinforce international pressure in order to accelerate a political solution to the crisis and confirmed its determination to use any legitimate means to put an end to the violence in Libya. The ongoing political, economic and military pressure is having a strong impact on the solidity of Qadhafi's hold on power. The statement by the co-chairs of the International Contact Group also mentioned the fact that militarily regime forces have suffered several defeats and have lost control of territory and NATO has intensified air strikes on the regime's command-and-control sites in and around Tripoli.

So that is what the Contact Group had to say. Now we can go straight to Naples and Wing Commander Mike Bracken for today's operational update.


Wing Commander Mike Bracken: (Military Spokesperson for Operation Unified Protector): Thank you, Oana, and good afternoon, Brussels and welcome to today's Operation Unified Protector operational update.

Slide please. Let's start off by discussing operations over the past week. NATO has seen it's most intense precision air strikes on targets in Tripoli. However, orders are still coming out from the capital, which is why we continue to hit Qadhafi's command-and-control, military equipment, intelligence structures, and other military facilities in and around the city that are actively engaged in brutal repression of the civilian population.

Without orders units are cut off, they are demoralized and they are less likely to attack civilians and more likely to lay down their arms and return to their homes.

Our tactics are working. The sustained strikes in Tripoli being carried out day and night are putting considerable pressure on the regime. Taking out the command-and-control nodes is causing confusion and desperation within the regime. We see it every day with the news of senior defections and troops abandoning their posts.

Video, please.

This footage shows NATO aircraft striking Qadhafi regime facilities in Tripoli over the last few days. As with all NATO strikes a series of checks were carried out to minimize collateral damage. The aircraft released their highly accurate weapons, which use both laser and GPS guidance to ensure minimum collateral damage.

But I'd like to reassure the people of Tripoli that these strikes are not directed at them, or the population of Libya. They are against those who continue to support the pro-Qadhafi regime, a regime of violence and increasingly outrageous propaganda and lies.

In the east, from Benghazi to Ajdabiya regime conventional attacks against civilians have virtually stopped. A growing number of people in eastern Libya are returning to normal life, and they no longer face the daily threat of shelling and violence.

And as many of you will know, last Saturday morning in the area around Brega, attack helicopters were used for the first time to target pro-Qadhafi forces. These helicopters were employed under the command of NATO. These missions were successful and demonstrated that NATO was right to add this versatile and efficient asset to its tool set.

The Commander will use attack helicopters with care and precision when the mission demands their unique capabilities, alongside fighter aircraft, bombers, AWACS and surveillance assets.

All NATO assets, including the Predator, will be employed to ensure NATO maintains the pressure on the regime to stop the attacks on its own people.

Of interest this slide, which we discovered recently during our surveillance techniques, identifies a very unusual activity. What we see here is a large trench being dug near Brega, which was being filled with what looks like black fluid. This is a significant concern to NATO, and may have a potential environmental impact in the area in the future.

Next slide.

Moving to the west and to the Berber Highlands, NATO is encouraged by the daily signs that the grip of Qadhafi's regime is weakening. There are still skirmishes and military forces are moving around the region on both sides. But our assessment is that Yafran, Zintan and Wazin are at this time under the control of anti-Qadhafi forces.

A reassuring sign is that Médecins Sans Frontières, who just two weeks ago evacuated the hospital in Zintan, have now said they will return to the town.

Continued indiscriminate shelling on some western towns tells us that the threat against civilians is not yet removed, so NATO assets are closely monitoring this dynamic situation to identify and deal with forces threatening the population.

With bombs, radio messages and leaflet drops, our message to pro-Qadhafi forces is clear: Stop attacking innocent people and return to your bases and your homes.

Moving west to Misrata and Tripoli. The front line east of Tripoli and west of Misrata, near Zlinten, is volatile and unstable. It is difficult to maintain a clear picture of recent reporting of pro-Qadhafi advances around Misrata. We know that there have been shellings and some sporadic engagements. But whether Qadhafi forces are able to launch a large-scale attack remains unconfirmed.

NATO will continue to monitor the situation using all NATO and partner assets available in order to conduct its mission and protect civilians. Food and humanitarian aid is free to arrive via the port, and more humanitarian organizations are in a position to assess the needs of the population. We will carry on assisting those organizations whenever and however we can.

Let's now discuss the air campaign. NATO continues to enforce the No-Fly Zone throughout Libya and it is successfully keeping Qadhafi's regime's air assets grounded. Since the beginning of NATO operations in Libya we have flown about 10,500 sorties, almost half of which have been strike sorties.

The strikes carried out so far continue to lock down Qadhafi's forces, resulting in them being unable to maneuver, and they struggle to operate coherently to launch attacks.

NATO has persistently damaged, or destroyed, legitimate and critically military targets which have been used to coordinate attacks against civilians. These include command-and-control nodes, ammunition stores, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as rocket launchers which have been used to fire indiscriminately at the civilians.

NATO's selection of targets is complex, ranging from advanced imagery to integrated information gathered, which means we can meticulously strike targets with a high degree of precision, thus minimize the risk of civilian casualties.

This slide demonstrates artillery hidden in tree lines. If you look carefully at the small pictures you can see the barrels of weapons sticking out of the trees.

Slide two.

This is the aftermath of the precision strikes.

Slide three.

This is what we call the battle damage assessment imagery. But from that you can see that those four missiles or four tanks have been removed and are no longer a threat to the population.

Video, please.

This video shows another NATO strike on concealed weapons. You can see the after-burning of the weapons inside the vehicles or around the vehicles and the artillery pieces.

Okay, this slide, you can hopefully see in the foreground two SA-8 pieces. To the right and top you can see a football match taking place. It's in the top of the shot. What NATO were able to do was to see this football match taking place, ease off, hold the target and then after a period of time when the area was completely clear of personnel, and the people on the ground, conduct a strike.

Video, please.

Now, this location of an SA-8, demonstrates a willingness on Qadhafi's part to operate within the civilian community and NATO's care to avoid civilian casualties by waiting until the area was clear of the people.

And that's the demise of an SA-8.

Moving to the maritime environment. The embargo has been crucial in stopping the flow of weapons. And what we call dual-use equipment, such as civilian pickup trucks which are used to transport weapons and ammunition around Libya.

NATO's minesweeping efforts have kept the approaches to the ports of Misrata clear of danger to both commercial and humanitarian shipping.  Those vessels that breach the embargo, or take part in any activities, such as laying mines, that hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid, will be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

We often speak of the NATO members' contribution to this operation, which remains significant. However, the Commander would like to convey his thanks to the partner nations of this operation, particularly our Arab colleagues from Qatar and all those that have worked alongside us since the beginning of the operation.

Our primary mission is to stop Qadhafi forces threatening and killing civilians. We are achieving that mission. Qadhafi has lost all credibility. His forces' suppression of the population through the use of violence and torture against innocent men, women and children means he no longer has any right to call himself their leader.

Thanks to the effectiveness of NATO military pressure, Qadhafi's time is up. His troops are demoralized. His generals and his ministers are leaving him. The Libyan people don't want him. Qadhafi will not win this fight. He must go. NATO has the upper hand and we will continue to keep up the pressure until Qadhafi's ability to terrify and oppress the Libyan people crumbles. Qadhafi's only future is out of power and out of Libya.

Thank you. I'll be happy to take questions alongside Oana.

Oana Lungescu:: And we'll go to Brussels first. Agence France-Presse.

Q: Hi, Laurent Thomet with Agence France-Presse. U.S. Defence Secretary Gates this morning had pretty blunt words for NATO allies, warning that their years of dwindling, shrinking military budgets are putting the Alliance's very future at stake, at risk. And he also warned that the Libyan mission is put at risk by this lack of investment and commitment. And he pointed out that the U.S. is forced to provide munitions for allies because their munitions are running short.

Do you believe that the mission can really be sustained without more contributions and how short are the allies of these munitions?

Oana Lungescu:: Let me take that question, Laurent. As you heard the Secretary General saying yesterday after the meeting of the NATO Defence Ministers, he himself has called on allies to broaden support for our operation in Libya. We do have the resources that we need. We also need to ensure that this is a sustainable operation. But when we extended this operation by 90 days, an extension that was endorsed by Defence Ministers at their meeting this week, allies and partners also made a clear commitment to provide the necessary assets to continue this operation at a higher operational tempo.

We have to see that there is the necessary solidarity in the Alliance and to broaden support as much as possible, so that we give commanders on the ground all the assets and the flexibility that they need. This is a call that the Secretary General made himself at the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Berlin in April and that was a call that allies and partners responded to as you have seen since that meeting.

So we are confident that they are listening, both to Secretary Gates and to the NATO Secretary General and they have shown the commitment to see this mission through.


Q: Yes, but without these commitments how long can this mission go on? No one so far has made any pledges and you're running short of munitions. You're depending on the U.S. So how long can this be sustained, especially with Norway saying that they're thinking of scaling back if this goes on beyond June.

Oana Lungescu:: Well, the United States, of course, is providing unique and essential capabilities, but this is a team effort, and it is non-U.S. allies and partners that are sharing much of the burden in this operation and all allies and partners gathered here in Brussels at the meeting of Defence Ministers have endorsed the extension of mission by 90 days and they have made clear that they will commit all the resources that are necessary to sustain this operation for as long as it takes.

Wall Street Journal.

Q: I'm Stephen Fidler from the Wall Street Journal. I'd just like to follow up on that. A broader point that Secretary Gates seemed to be making was that essentially the U.S. is subsidizing European defence and that the attachment of the U.S. to NATO is one that may be something that means something to his generation, but a new generation is coming along to which it means less to.

I mean, does the Secretary General share the view of U.S. subsidy of European allies, and is he also concerned that the U.S. attachment to the Alliance may weaken as time goes by?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken:: Stephen, you've been following this Secretary General's speeches for long enough to know that this is a concern that he himself has voiced earlier this year. You heard his speech at the Munich Security Conference about security in an age of austerity. You may have seen subsequent speeches in Bratislava, in Varna, recently. There is clearly a long-standing concern about the transatlantic gap in defence spending. There's a risk that European allies may fall even further behind in terms of technical development because of low levels of defence spending.

Obviously we all know that there is an economic and financial crisis ongoing and in a period when all parts of national budgets are being cut, defence budgets cannot be exempt, which is why the Secretary General has made a very clear appeal or smart defence, which means not that we can spend more, because the money just isn't there, but that we can spend better. And that is why pooling and sharing resources, by taking part in multinational projects, and that is an appeal that he has made. Also during his trip to the United States. And what he made clear in the United States is that NATO is a team effort. If you look at our operation in Libya, where most of the ships and planes involved come from non-U.S. allies and partners, and also if you look at our operation in Afghanistan, where the surge was made up by 30,000 American troops, backed up by 10,000 troops from non-U.S. allies and partners. But clearly this is a team effort that has to be sustained.

Q: Yes, Gerard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. I have been told twice last week that there will be shortly a shortage of target according to the... legitimate target, according to the UN Security Council Resolution. Is that a concern for you?

Oana Lungescu:: Mike, one for you.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken:: Yes, I mean, from an operational perspective. We will continue targeting to protect the civilian population so when there's no more attacks on the civilian population we'll know there's no more targets. It's really as simple as that. While they're still being attacked there must be targets out there.

Oana, do you want to add anything?

Oana Lungescu:: No, I think that's an operational answer to an operational question. I think we can go over to Naples now, Mike, if there are colleagues with you there.

MODERATOR: Any questions, ladies and gentlemen? No questions from Naples.

Oana Lungescu:: We'll go to Lorenzo first.

Q: Yes, I was there when the Secretary General yesterday and the other day repeated this message that you repeated also today, Oana, on the fact that the allies have committed themselves to go on with this mission for 90 more days and then they will be, of course, available for... that will give availability of more assets and more flexibility.

But the fact is that until now we didn't have any positive answer to this. We actually had a pretty clear no from... at least from one country, Spain, and the other countries which were clearly targeted by, in particular, the Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, at my knowledge didn't give any answer.

So are you still hoping that the answer will come from these member states in the next days, and what if it doesn't?

Oana Lungescu:: Obviously, Lorenzo, this is a national decision, first and foremost, but as you know very well, what happened this week in Brussels was a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. This was not a pledging conference, it was not a force generation conference, so this is the sort of decision that governments have to discuss with their Parliaments as they have to. This is an Alliance of democracies after all, so there was no expectation of an instant response.

What we did see, though, was a very clear commitment from all allies and all partners around the table, to endorse the extension of the mission by 90 days, and to commit to providing the resources that are necessary to see the mission through.


Q: A couple of questions for Mike. The U.S. says that it's... Secretary Gates made a reference to this again today, that Europe or the allies seem to lack command-and-control capability, the capability to sort of watch a target and convert that into a strike. And clearly there are things that Europeans can't do that the us is doing because it says it's only providing what's essential and what only it can do. So I'd like to ask you what you, looking at this mission, what you see as Europe not being able to do that the U.S. is now doing? So in other words, what capabilities that Europe doesn't have that the U.S. does have?

That's my first question, and I have a question related to intelligence and whether defectors from the regime have been providing any targeting intelligence and what you can tell us about that process, if that is happening?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken::  Okay, I'll try and attempt to answer the first one where you're talking about capabilities. I suppose the bonus from being at the operational end here is we operate with the assets that are available to us, so as nations come forward and say they'll provide an asset, and we don't really mind where that comes from, the Commander will look each 24 hour period at the assets that he's got available to him, he'll assess the targets that have been approved, and he will apply those assets to deliver the mission and to carry out the mandate.

So I suppose from our perspective at the operational end we like, any methodical planner, look at what we've got and how we can deliver the mission. So we don't see the capability gaps that you're referring to because we deliver the mission.

I think the other part you asked about was the use of any information from... you referred to them as defectors. All I'll say is that any military campaign relies on something that we call fused information. So we will take information from every source we can. And if we get information from a press conference in Rome or we get information from somebody passing second hand, we'll get information from open source on the internet, we'll get Twitter, you name any source of media and our fusion centre will deliver all of that into useable intelligence. That he will... the Commander will asses as what he can use, what he can trust, and the experience of the operators, the intelligence officers, and the trained military personnel and civilian support staff will give him those options. And he will decide that's goo information, I'm going to act on it.

So where it comes from, again, it's not relevant to the commander. He will use all that is available to deliver his mission and to deliver the mandate. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu:: Stephen has a follow-up.

Q: Just a follow-up. Let me ask the first question in a slightly different way then. If only European assets were available what things that NATO is now doing would it not be able to do?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken:: I think Stephen you've answered your own question two a certain degree. If it was only European... we have a coali... a partnership here with NATO and other nations. I've already mentioned that the Commander was thanking Qatar. We have European nations and we have the United States on site, so I'm not even going to speculate on whether we could or could not operate without them. This is a combined effort by a large number of nations within NATO and within our partners, and we're able to deliver. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu:: I think I'll two more follow-ups at the front. Laurent.

Q: CNN has reported citing a senior NATO military official that basically NATO believes that the UN Resolution justifies targeting Qadhafi because as head of the military he is part of the command-and-control structure. Is this a view you share?

Oana Lungescu:: Let me take this one, Laurent. And let me make this very clear. NATO does not target specific individuals. We do target critical military capabilities that could be used to attack civilians, including command-and-control centres that could be used to plan and organize such attacks.

Our operation fully complies with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes all the necessary means to end attacks and the threat of attack against civilian and civilian-populated centres.

Q: CNN is citing... I mean, this is a pretty reputable news organization. Does this mean that there's dissent within NATO about that view, whether Qadhafi is a legitimate target or not? Are there people within NATO that believe he should be targeted?

Oana Lungescu:: I'm not going to comment on the reputability of CNN. What I do notice is that this is an anonymous source and you have here standing in front of you a named source, which is the NATO Spokesperson. And as the NATO Spokesperson I can tell you on the record that NATO does not target specific individuals. We do target critical military capabilities that can be used to attack civilians, including command-and-control centres that plan and coordinate those attacks against civilians, because these are the nerve centre of Qadhafi's killing machine.

And as you've seen, we have kept up a very high operational tempo with over 10,000 sorties since the start of this mission, and we have damaged or destroyed over 1,800 critical legitimate military targets, including some 100 command-and-control centres.

Lorenzo, last question.

Q: I think it's for Naples. I would like to have some more details on the attacks carried out by helicopters in Brega, if I understood well. Can you tell us what the objectives were, and how many helicopters were employed and what the result was of this?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken:: Okay, I'm not going to be difficult here. We don't talk about specific tactics, and throughout the whole campaign we've not talked about specific numbers of fast jet airplanes or specific numbers of any type of asset that is at the disposal of the Commander.

What I will say is that attack helicopters were employed by the Commander last weekend, on Saturday morning, and now they are part of the set of assets that he has available to him. And he will use those assets alongside the fast jets and the bombing aircraft, the aircraft that are used to deliver leaflets as and when he thinks it's appropriate. So the mission will be decided on and then he'll use the best asset for that particular mission.

Thank you.

Oana Lungescu:: Thank you very much, Mike. Thank you very much to everybody in Naples, and thank you very much for you for coming here at the end of this fairly long week at NATO. See you next week.