Press briefing on Libya

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

  • 14 Jun. 2011
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  • Last updated: 14 Jun. 2011 17:27

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Hello to everybody here in Brussels, and to those joining us in Naples. I'll hand over to Wing Commander Mike Bracken in Naples for our Libya operational update in a second. Before I do I'd just like to give you a quick preview of an upcoming event.

The Secretary General will be in London tomorrow where he'll be addressing the Royal United Services Institute. The speech is part of a two-day conference on missile defence, and his speech will be called NATO Defending Against Ballistic Missile Attacks.

In the speech he'll consider three key questions. Why do we need missile defence? Why do we need transatlantic cooperation? And why do we want cooperation with Russia? And he'll also be taking questions at RUSI in London tomorrow, so for those wishing to attend please check the RUSI website.

While in London the Secretary General will also meet Prime Minister David Cameron. They will review the progress of Operation Unified Protector. I expect they'll also discuss the need for the international community to plan for the post-Qadhafi, post-conflict Libya. And of course, Afghanistan remains NATO's number one operational priority, so the Secretary General will update Prime Minister Cameron on progress towards transition to Afghan security lead.

Moving to Libya, we've seen another busy weekend, both on the diplomatic and the military fronts. Mike will bring you up to speed on the military situation. On the diplomatic front we've seen Germany and the United Arab Emirates recognizing the National Transitional Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Which is yet further evidence of the increasing isolation of the Qadhafi regime, and that quite simply this regime has no future.

We continue to maintain a high tempo of operations. It's clear that NATO has the resources to keep up the pressure on the Qadhafi regime. We know it takes time, we know that following last week's ministerial meeting Allies and partners are considering how they can best provide the necessary resources to see this mission through.

And as stated last week, the Secretary General is confident that the Alliance will do just that.

And with that I can hand over the floor to Naples and Wing Commander Mike Bracken. Mike.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken (Military Spokesman for Operation Unified Protector): Thank you, Oana, and good afternoon Brussels and welcome to the journalists that have joined us today here in Naples.

The past few days have witnessed considerable dynamic activity across Libya, with frequent skirmishes in pockets of the country where pro-Qadhafi and rebel forces are engaged in fighting. The situation on the ground is constantly evolving, and at times... and is resulting in a complex and uncertain picture.

While NATO relies on highly sophisticated intelligence reports and information analysis, the multitude of open-source reports can sometimes be confusing, contradictory and difficult to independently verify.

NATO uses all means, including its own and partner assets to assess and fuse information into reliable intelligence that enables NATO forces to carry out their mission to protect civilians. The key is that NATO continues to monitor the situation across the country very closely while the forces involved in Operation Unified Protector carry out their military task in this dynamic and multi-faceted environment.

In the east there have been some reports of skirmishes in the Brega and Ajdabiya area. But overall it is assessed to be relatively quiet and there's been little movement by either side and no significant changes to the intensity of activity by pro- or anti-Qadhafi forces.

Moving to Misrata, over the weekend, there was fighting between pro- and anti-Qadhafi forces along the Mediterranean coast, west of Misrata and east of Tripoli in the vicinity of the towns of Dafnia and Zliten.

On a positive note, we have reports that some non-government organizations intend opening a casualty treatment facility in the vicinity of Dafnia to provide additional medical support.

West of Misrata there was also reports of a rebel offensive on the important oil-producing port of Zawiyah, 30 kilometres west of Tripoli. This area appears to be a hotspot for pro- and anti-Qadhafi clashes, and NATO continues to focus intelligence-gathering capabilities in this area to build a better understanding of events on the ground.

At sea, just off the west coast of Misrata, early on Monday morning, a NATO vessel spotted two high-speed inflatable boats. Similar craft have been previously used by Qadhafi special forces in an attempt to lay mines in the harbour. As a result attack helicopters were rapidly deployed from a NATO warship to intercept and destroy the boats.

Attack helicopters have become an important integrated component of the combined air campaign and they are regularly achieving success.

In the west and in the Berber Highlands anti-Qadhafi forces continue to make steady gains and appear to control the ground from Wazin to Jadu and Zintan, as well as the town of Yafran, where we can confirm humanitarian aid supplies are getting through.

Finally, in Tripoli. NATO strikes have continued to degrade command-and-control nodes and other military targets in order to stop the regime's ability to coordinate attacks. We know that Tripoli is the linchpin for the command-and-control of the Qadhafi regime and his ability to issue orders to fielded forces. NATO will continue to dismantle the regime's ability to coordinate attacks and direct violence against the country and reduce pro-Qadhafi forces' freedom to manoeuvre.

It is also focusing its efforts on destroying the supply of munitions reaching the pro-Qadhafi frontline by targeting the ammunition storage bunkers and facilities across the country, thereby reducing the threat to the civilian population of attack.

I would like to sum up today's update with a video clip which shows a NATO strike on the vast ammunition storage facility in the desert at Waddan in Central Libya.

Video, please. You can see here the storage facility and the space between the entrance and the siting, as the aircraft continues to track the target. You can see the strike as the aircraft releases the weapon. And then subsequent explosions as the ammunitions within the bunker and the storage facility are taken out.

NATO and its partner forces will continue to hit these types of targets to cut off the supply of pro-Qadhafi military machine, and prevent his forces being able to launch attacks on the civilian population of Libya.

That concludes my statement. I'm happy to take questions. Oana.

Oana Lungescu: We have the Belga News Agency.

Q: Yes, Gerard Gaudin, Belgium News Agency. Could you tell us how many... give a breakdown of the helicopters missions that have been flown since they've been engaged in the operation?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Thank you. As you know there was... the introduction of the attack helicopters over the period of 3rd, 4th of August... August? My goodness, time flies! Of June. Since then we've integrated them into the air campaign as part of the activities across the whole spectrum of the operation. And similarly to our fast jets, our air-to-air refuelling, our surveillance aircraft, and our command-and-control aircraft. I'm not going to go into specifics of the numbers of aircraft, and which days they fly and don't fly. The Commander will issue the requirements of the day, and we will use whatever assets available to him to carry out those tasks during that 24 hour period.

Thank you.

Oana Lungescu: I don't see any further questions in Brussels, so with that we can go to you in Naples, Mike.

Moderator: Okay.

Q: Hi, Jeff(ph) (inaudible), Stars and Stripes. Regarding the refugee crisis we've seen at sea, you know, thousands and thousands of Libyans fleeing via the waters, what is NATO doing to help them, and under the mandates of this mission are you allowed to do anything to assist refugees? And kind of tied into that, what are the other at-sea duties and does that, in fact, leave any time to assist any refugee vessels that might come under distress?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Obviously this story was running significantly a few weeks ago and it was a concern for NATO and its partners that a number of refugees were, we believe, from open source, being forced to leave by sea. Others were electing to leave by sea.

The concern is that they were overloading their craft and that they were sort of in very cramped conditions.

The mission that NATO and its partners are on is under United Nations Security Resolution 1970, which is an embargo operation for the Maritime Component Commander. His role within that embargo doesn't distract from the fact that he and the ships within the NATO regime work to the SOLAS agreement, which is the Safety of Lives at Sea. And that, working with the maritime authorities and commercial shipping means that we will always do what we can to anyone who is in distress at sea, and that applies to refugees, just as it would to any other person or vessel found to be in distress. Hopefully that covers what you're asking.

Moderator: Any other questions? There's another one.

Q: Yes, I wanted to ask you if it can be confirmed that some pro-Qadhafi missiles have been dropped in Tunisian territory, and also whether, as some news agencies are reporting, the Qadhafi troops have approached the Leptis Magna ruins in order to avoid being bombed?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Sorry, I'm getting two translations there. Fabio, would you mind taking that translation for us?

Moderator: Yes, the first question was about reporting about pro-Qadhafi missiles into Tunisian territory, if it's confirmed by us; we know anything about it?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Okay. I've heard on open source that there have been reports of that. I cannot substantiate that from any factual evidence that we have within NATO at this moment in time. Obviously the Headquarters here and the assets that we have on the information surveillance and reconnaissance we'll follow that up and we will look and see what fact or truth is involved in that and come back to you accordingly.

The second question, please, Fabio?

Moderator: Can you repeat the second part of the question, please? (SPEAKING IN ITALIAN).

Q: The second part of the question is the following: I wanted to know if you could confirm whether the pro-Qadhafi forces have actually moved towards the Leptis Magna ruins in order to avoid bombings by the Alliance?

Can you confirm this?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Thank you, and thank you for the translation.

I cannot confirm where Qadhafi has moved his forces in the area of the Leptis Magna. I am aware of the heritage site Leptis Magna. The important thing for myself and for the Headquarters here is that we are very carefully tracking what we can. This would be a concern for us, that Qadhafi and pro-Qadhafi forces would choose to contravene international law regarding hiding or hiding themselves in such a location. The important thing here is if we were to take on any targets we would consider all risks and the important thing with infrastructure is that we need to leave Libya in a fit state so that post this conflict it can stand up on its own two feet as quickly as possible.

Thank you.

Moderator: Any other questions? No other questions from here. Back to Brussels.

Oana Lungescu: And I don't see any other questions from here, so thank you very much to everybody in Naples and in Brussels. Thank you.