Press briefing on Libya

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

  • 17 Jun. 2011
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  • Last updated: 20 Jun. 2011 10:50

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Before I hand over to him, let me give you this week's overview. The Secretary General is currently meeting the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conferences, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. The OIC is part of the Contact Group on Libya and has played an important role in the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

As you know, NATO has, from the very start, engaged with a wide range of regional and international actors, including the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League and the African Union. And the Organization of Islamic Conferences as well. We all know that there's no military solution to this crisis. NATO is fully implementing the United Nations mandate to protect civilians and ultimately pave the way for a political solution.

And we can see that this combination of military pressure and reinforced political pressure is working. NATO is steadily and systematically striking every link in Qadhafi's kill chain and saving thousands of lives every day.

Meanwhile, Qadhafi's international isolation continues to grow. You may have seen that Senegal recognized the legitimacy of the National Transitional Council just the other day, as did Canada, joining many others, including France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

I noticed that one of Qadhafi's sons said in an interview yesterday, my father's regime, as it developed since 1969, is dead. He is exactly right, and he should know.

But Qadhafi should stop killing, brutalizing the threatening his people in the name of a regime that even his son says is defunct.

Clearly, time is not on Qadhafi's side. He is Libya's past, not its future. NATO has absolute commitment to see this mission through, and we can sustain the operation for as long as we choose.

That was the very strong message during the Secretary General's trip to London on Tuesday where he met Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. Of course, they also discussed the start of transition in Afghanistan and the increasing capability of Afghan Security Forces to take over lead responsibility for security.

In Madrid yesterday, discussions with Prime Minister Zapatero focused on NATO's potential role in a post-conflict Libya. The Secretary General has made very clear that we see the United Nations playing the lead role once our mission is accomplished, and the whole of the international community should be planning for that day as a matter of priority.

Finally, you may have seen that earlier today the Swedish Parliament extended the country's participation in Operation Unified Protector by another three months. Sweden is a valued partner and we very much welcome this decision.

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

Wing Commander Mike Bracken (Spokesperson for Operation Unified Protector): Thank you, Oana, and good afternoon, Brussels, and welcome to those of you who have joined us here in Naples.

Since Tuesday there's been very little verifiable change at the operational level in the situation across Libya. NATO continues to carefully monitor the pockets of fighting between pro- and anti-Qadhafi forces in areas such as Brega, Dafniyah, the western coastline and the Berber Highlands in order to reliably establish a clear picture of events on the ground.

Our analysis capabilities continue to fuse information from a multitude of sources, whether they be from NATO and partners' state-of-the-art surveillance, or from open source reports into reliable useable intelligence so that the forces involved in Operation Unified Protector can carry out their military task in this dynamic and complex environment.

The No-Fly Zone continues to be maintained and the maritime embargo to prevent the flow into Libyan ports of weapons and equipment which could be used to harm civilians, remains highly effective.

NATO air strikes continue to focus on destroying and degrading command-and-control nodes and other military targets in order to stop the regime's ability to coordinate attacks on civilians, and crucially reduce its will to fight.

Our tactics are working. Yesterday there were more reports emerging of pro-Qadhafi troops defecting across the Tunisian border.

All NATO strikes are planned and carried out with great care and precision in order to strike legitimate targets for maximum military effect and minimize, to the fullest extent, the risk of causing civilian casualties.

We take all reports of civilian casualties caused by NATO extremely seriously and we investigate all allegations. It is worth emphasizing that no such allegations have yet been positively verified by the media or any independent witnesses during the course of NATO's campaign in Libya.

Success in this campaign will not be measured by tallying targets and cannot be achieved through military means alone. However, the number of targets that NATO successfully destroyed and disabled does indicate the sheer size and strength of the military machine which Qadhafi amassed over the last 40 years in order to oppress his own people. Qadhafi's Libya was a military dictatorship. It is that simple.

Through the course of this campaign NATO has been steadily dismantling the pro-Qadhafi military machine and its capability to launch attacks and inflict violent atrocities on the innocent men, women and children of Libya.

To put this into context here are some targets statistics for the period the 31st of March to the 12th of June. NATO struck over 2,000 targets in total. This includes 370 military facilities and approximately 255 surface-to-air missiles, radar systems or storage sites. It has hit approximately 130 command-and-control sites, approximately 600 tanks, armoured vehicles, military vehicles, artillery pieces, rocket launchers, and approximately 750 storage facilities for ammunition, such as the Waddan ammunition storage facility which we discussed on Tuesday.

In addition, it has removed from the battle space 10 fighter and rotary wing aircraft, and 10 ships.

Each and every target is struck with precision and the greatest attention to every level of detail.

Now let's have a look across the country from east to west, as I have done over the last few briefings. In the east there have been some skirmishes between Brega and Ajdabiya, but there is no significant change in the overall situation, with both sides largely dug into defensive positions.

In this area NATO is aware of a media report of a potential instant involving opposition forces. We are checking these details and the circumstances regarding this report. NATO does not have personnel on the ground so we cannot confirm any details.

Despite some shelling in the vicinity of Misrata in the last few days a number of organizations have started activities to clear mines and dangerous ordinance from the city. They are working to remove antipersonnel mines which were laid by the pro-Qadhafi forces when the city was besieged.

These organizations will also train residents how to spot and deactivate potentially harmful ordinance that now litters those residential streets which were previously battle zones. This is vital in the innocent displacement of people in Misrata so that they can safely return to their homes now that the fighting in the city has subsided and pro-Qadhafi forces have been driven out.

West of Misrata there are some positive signs that civilians are unifying against the Qadhafi regime, with reports of anti-Qadhafi uprisings in parts of Zintan.

We know that the hotspot for pro- and anti-Qadhafi military engagements now lie approximately 30 kilometres west of Misrata between the towns of Dafniyah and Zlinten. Here the situation is highly charged, but for the time being pro-Qadhafi forces appear unable to strongly counter the anti-Qadhafi forces' incremental advances toward Tripoli.

With regard to the western coastline we have strong indications that some anti-Qadhafi uprisings are occurring at al-Zawiya and in nearby villages. In the west and in the Berber Highlands pro-Qadhafi forces have shelled the Wazin border. This is at the Wazin crossing point and is most likely an attempt to restrict anti-Qadhafi forces freedom of movement in the area.

However, the anti-Qadhafi forces seem to be holding their ground and have launched some successful offenses. Several small villages between Zintan and Yafran are now under anti-Qadhafi control.

In Tripoli NATO's intensification of air strikes has resulted in the destruction of crucial command-and-control nodes, military equipment and ammunition storage facilities, particularly within the vast Bab al-Azizia presidential compound. Qadhafi's military intelligence headquarters and other communications and intelligence facilities have also been damaged or destroyed.

NATO will maintain the high tempo of strikes in Tripoli in order to limit Qadhafi's ability to coordinate his forces' activities across Libya.

It is unfortunately still the case that pro-Qadhafi forces continue to show a shocking determination to harm the Libyan people. These forces hide in populated areas and launch attacks from buildings they believe NATO will not strike, such as the one in this clip, a mosque.

Video, please.

In this clip you will see pro-Qadhafi regime people and vehicles moving next to a mosque. Then you see missiles launch from the mosque courtyard in the town of Zintan.

From a different angle you see a second missile launch captured by the same ISR platform. You can see clearly that the turret, that depicts the location of a mosque, and during this recording we calculated seven missiles were launched from this location.

The ISR platform has a sophisticated capability to change magnification in the final part of the clip. And you can see the picture pan out to where the rockets are landing. In a populated area.

In sum, calculated and callous actions like this means NATO's campaign to protect the Libyan people must go on. It will continue until Qadhafi forces stop attacking their own people.

That concludes my statement and Oana and I will be happy to take questions. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu: AP.

Q: Commander, good morning. It's Don Melvin with Associated Press. As you're aware there continue to be questions about whether the mission has changed along the way, or whether it continues to be narrowly defined in terms of protecting civilians. And your final sentence was that the campaign will continue until they stop attacking... Qadhafi forces stop attacking. Are there any circumstances that you can foresee under which Qadhafi could stay and NATO would declare the mission over and it would go? If all the forces returned, if this, if that? Are there any circumstances you can imagine under which Qadhafi would stay and NATO would declare the mission finished?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Thank you, and that's a very good question. NATO is very clear on the task that has been set to it by the United Nations Security Council. It gave us two Resolutions which enabled us to carry out the mandate. That is, an embargo, which we've already talked about, and a No-Fly Zone and to protect civilian lives. Whilst we are seeing civilian lives being attacked and put at risk we continue to work within that mandate.

The next part of the question really is a political question, and that is if we were to move into any other area and decide what may or may not be decided as a cease-fire. That's a political decision. Until that is made the Commander at the operational level will continue this mission within the mandate that he's been given.

Oana, would you like to add anything to that?

Oana Lungescu: Indeed. The... as you know the three clear military goals have been set by Foreign Ministers at the meeting in Berlin in April and they were a stop to all attacks against civilians, a withdrawal of all Qadhafi military and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks and full unhindered humanitarian access. Those are the three clear military goals. The mission will continue and we will ramp up the pressure until those goals are met.

You have a follow-up question.

Q: If I could just quickly follow-up. The mission being to protect civilians, we have a civil war, you have referred to anti-Qadhafi forces. If there is action between forces on both sides involving no civilians, is that something that NATO takes... takes no action about, there not being civilians involved. Can Qadhafi forces, in fact, if fired upon, return fire?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: As I've said, there are skirmishes across the country and we watch and we monitor the situation on the ground. Our mandate is clear, though. We will interdict forces that are inflicting casualties or making the... putting the civilian population of Libya at risk.

Oana Lungescu: And you may have seen yesterday's mention of possible elections in Libya within three months by Qadhafi's son. It's, once again, an instance of what I would call a cynical PR ploy because it's hard to imagine that after 41 years in which Qadhafi abolished elections, the constitutions, political parties, trade unions, overnight a dictator would turn into a democrat.

So what we and the whole international community wants to see is action rather than words. The United Nations Security Council Resolution mentions a cease-fire. There should be clear moves towards an end to attacks. The immediate end of all attacks and threat of attacks against civilians, a withdrawal of Qadhafi's forces to bases, and full and unimpeded humanitarian access.


Q: Yes, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. I just wanted to ask a follow-up your comment about the sustainability of the operation. You're saying it can be sustained as long as you choose. Apart from what you've said about Sweden extending its mission, has there been any other response to the appeal that the Secretary General for additional resources to sustain the mission, and given all the other comments we've heard from General Abrial and others, expressing concern about the long-term sustainability. 

My understanding is that the French aircraft carrier can only remain in the theatre until the autumn. If the conflict were to continue after the date when that aircraft carrier needs to leave is there any contingency to replace it? And if not, how can you sustain current level of operations if necessary?

Oana Lungescu: David, I'll leave allies and partners to announce their contributions themselves. Those are national decisions that, as you've seen in the case of Sweden, often have to be taken through national parliaments and that is right and proper and that's how it should be.

But we are fully confident that we have the resources, we have the commitment it takes to see this mission through and time is not on Qadhafi's side.

Mike, if you want to add anything to that.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: No, I think the same really applies as I said on Tuesday and on previous occasions. You know, the Commander will operate with the resources that is given to him and any military prudent planner will look ahead, he'll decide while the resources are available to him, and as we have seen in the past, some nations are able to contribute more or a new asset to the campaign and the commander is grateful for when that happens.

There may be occasions when a nation feels that they need to take a resource out of the operation for a period of time, perhaps to continue training or something of that effect, and the commander will work within the resources he has. It's not going to affect his ultimate aim and we will continue to prosecute that mandate until it's complete. 

Moderator: We do have questions in Naples.

Q: I'd like to have a comment on yours on the proposal made by the Home Minister Maroni yesterday according to whom the embargo could be used, not only for the incoming ships, ships incoming into Libyan ports, but also for the outgoing ones with refugees onboard.

According to Maroni, the embargo could be used in this case too and I'd like to have a comment of yours on this, please.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Okay, the only thing I would say is the United Nations Resolution of the embargo is clear. It discusses and states that the role is to stop weapons and facilities and equipment that can be taken into Libya to deal with inflicting harm on civilians. That is the role of the embargo. The sea is an open area and can be used by shipping and it's an individual nation's responsibility and choice as to what shipping comes into its waters.

Oana, have you anything to add?

Oana Lungescu: No, I think you've covered it there. If there are any other questions from Naples we'd be very happy to hear them.

Moderator: One more question.

Q: Eva Callinger(ph) from the German news magazine Focus.  You have showed us the video from Zlinten, I think, of the Qadhafi's rockets from the "Moschee". Can you tell what you can do there as NATO in Zlinten now?

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: In Zlinten or with regard to that particular incident?

Q: (Inaudible...).

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: To this incident. Well, we have information surveillance reconnaissance capabilities to monitor situations of this type. And what we do tactically beyond watching the event that happened in the mosque and where those resources were taken afterwards is a tactical decision and we can watch across the whole of Libya with our various ISR platforms and when they're in a safe situation so that we can indict or strike them away from civilians. We can take all of our calculations, we will deal with them as and when that position is known to us and we'll remove them from the battle space.

Thank you.

Moderator: Back to Brussels.

Oana Lungescu: We have one more question over there.

Q: I'm (inaudible) representing (inaudible) News Agency from Ukraine.  It had been previously report about mercenaries and some kinds of military advisors, probably even soldiers or different sorts of fighters coming to Libya to fight on Qadhafi's side. In particular, in some media countries, sources of such were supplying such people been mentioned like Serbia, Belarus and so on. Also, in Israeli newspaper I quite recently read reports that allegedly a foreign embassy in Tripoli deployed some equipment to protect Qadhafi forces from air strikes, NATO air strike.

Could you somehow reflect or comment on such information and reports? Thank you.

Wing Commander Mike Bracken: Thank you. A complex question I think, because I've got it in part because of the communications here. First of all, any nation or any people, individuals or mercenaries who wish to side with pro-Qadhafi forces and inflict harm on the civilian population will be dealt with by NATO in the best way it can by removing them from the battle space so that they cannot carry out that task that they consider acceptable, along with the atrocities that we've read about and heard about and the International Criminal Court has made various statements on that.

If other nations were to put personnel on the ground that is a national call and it would not be for the operational commander to judge what another nation would wish to do.

Oana, do you have anything to add as well?

Oana Lungescu: No, I have not seen those reports that you're referring to. If there are any other questions in Brussels or in Naples for a last round. I don't see any in Brussels.

Moderator: No questions from Naples.

Q: Many thanks indeed, and we'll see you next week. Thank you.