Press briefing on Libya

by Oana Lungescu, the NATO Spokesperson and Colonel Roland Lavoie, Operation ‘’Unified Protector’’ military spokesperson

  • 19 Jul. 2011
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  • Last updated: 19 Jul. 2011 18:43

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon, welcome back to NATO, and a special welcome today to Colonel Roland Lavoie, who's now taken up his post as spokesman for Operation Unified Protector in Naples.

Roland comes to us with great experience, operational experience in public affairs in various NATO missions around the world. He was a spokesman for KFOR in '99 and a senior public affairs adviser in Afghanistan, and most recently the Director of Air Force Public Affairs in Canada.

Roland will provide us with an operational update in a moment and also on an operational note, this briefing is being made available in Arabic for media and publics in Libya and the rest of the Arab world.

As you know, there've been significant political developments in the last week. On Friday the Secretary General was in Istanbul where he met Prime Minister Erdogan and the Foreign Minister Davutoglu. He also took part in the fourth meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya. The meeting took place at a key moment and the Contact Group has a key role to play.

While NATO is continuing its work on the military track, it's particularly important to show continued determination and momentum on the political track. And it's also important that the international community speaks with one voice and delivers one clear message.

NATO supports the initiative to develop a road map for a democratic and free Libya. The Secretary General in Istanbul stressed that any ceasefire among the parties must be credible and verifiable and with clear conditions. Otherwise, he said, we would risk a rebound of violence.

He also reiterated that NATO does not aspire to any lead role in the transition period, but if asked to do so could offer support to the international community under the lead of the United Nations and the Contact Group. We will, of course, continue to consult with partners in that regard.

The Contact Group, as you may have soon, noted that the Qadhafi regime no longer has any legitimate authority in Libya and that he and certain members of his family must go until an interim authority is in place. It agreed to deal with the National Transitional Council as the legitimate governing authority of Libya.

The chair's statement of the Contact Group also appreciated the efficient and effective role played by NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the implementation of United Nations resolutions and welcomed the extension of our operations for another 90 days.

One final word on Afghanistan. As you know on Sunday Bamiyan became the first district in the country to undergo the transition to Afghan security lead, and this morning the province of Methar Lam, in the district of Laghman, also made its transition. Other areas will follow, so we expect that soon seven districts and provinces, which are home to a quarter of the Afghan population, will be under Afghan security lead.

The handover of Methar Lam is a good example of the partnership between ISAF and Afghan authorities. The Afghan Government showed leadership by proposing this area for the first wave of transition, and that is the way it should be, because transition is about Afghans taking the lead.

It's a process, it's not a single moment in time, but transition is underway and the direction is clear. A country led by Afghans, secured by Afghans, for the Afghans.

And with that I'll hand over to Roland in Naples for our operational update on Libya. Roland.

Colonel Roland Lavoie (Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector): Thank, Oana, for your very kind word of introduction. Bonjour, and welcome to those who are joining us from Brussels.

It has been another intensive week in our campaign since the last briefing, and I'm pleased to be here with you, to provide you with a short overview and to answer some questions.

I know that many of you are reading our daily operational update, which we post online each morning. So what I would like to do during these weekly updates is to provide you with as much additional information as possible regarding the most significant or sometimes the more complex key operational events.

I also want you to know that our media relations team is committed to providing you and all members of the media and the public [with] as much operational information as possible on this important mission within the provisions of operational security, of course.

J'invite par la même occasion les médias de langue française à me poser des questions en français. Ça me ferait grand plaisir d'y répondre.

Since the last occasion you were briefed, the situation in Libya has evolved and we are seeing considerable movements by anti-Qadhafi forces in the east towards Brega and in the area of Misrata. Thankfully, the flow of humanitarian assistance into Misrata has been sustained, irrespective of the persistent, indiscriminate employment of indirect fire from the regime.

The reduction in those weapons and the reduced risk to civilians come as a direct consequence of NATO air strikes.

Now in the western highlands the regime has continued to threaten civilians, in particular using indirect fire to restrict the flow of humanitarian aid against the border with Tunisia. NATO air strikes in the area have focused on securing the movement of humanitarian aid, and the protection of civilian in the areas, especially in the sectors of Nalut, Zintan and Al Gawalesh. Apologies for the pronunciation.

We know that the regime forces are still planning attacks and threatening to attack civilians. NATO forces will continue to take actions to protect them whenever and wherever.

We are committed to this lifesaving mission and determined to conducting it using all available assets in the most flexible, efficient and versatile manner.

Afin qu'il n'y ait aucun doute l'OTAN a reçu la mission de protéger la population libyenne et est déterminé à la mener à bien. C'est en utilisant... ceci en utilisant tous les moyens nécessaires de la façon la plus flexible et efficace possible.

Now I would like to elaborate on the situation at the Tripoli airport since I was made aware that yesterday pro-Qadhafi personnel brought some media to the airport.

Yesterday morning NATO aircraft struck a key antenna system at the main airport in Tripoli. While the antenna had once been used to control Libya's air space before the start of NATO's operations, when it was struck it was clear that it was being used for military purposes.

Our intelligence, indeed, confirmed that the antenna was being used by pro-Qadhafi forces to track NATO air assets in the air space over Tripoli and to coordinate their own air defence early-warning system. This information was used with the intent of coordinating tactical operations against NATO air assets and Libyan civilians.

Let me stress that NATO has controlled the Libyan air space around the clock, every day since the implementation of the No-Fly Zone, using NATO's sophisticated airborne warning and control system, known as the AWACS. Simply put, there's no reason at all for them to control the air space.

It is important to note that having full control over the air space is a key part of NATO's mandate to enforce a No-Fly Zone, while also allowing the safe movement of all legitimate humanitarian and diplomatic flights entering Libya.

I would like to stress on that specific point, that just a few hours after the air strike yesterday there was confirmation of a landing, safe landing, of a Red Cross humanitarian aircraft. And also I would like to stress that our records indicate that 528 flights carrying humanitarian aid have been safely coordinated through the air space.

Humanitarian assistance is also arriving by sea, totalling 123 shipments since the start of our operation, and it is worth noting that all humanitarian shipment by land, sea and air have increased globally by a total of 15 percent in the past month only.

To sum up, I'm looking forward to engaging with as many of you as possible in the coming days and weeks. We have a clear mandate, and we continue to stay engaged with our military mission. The Libyan people deserve to decide for their own future and we're here to help them.

Now we could take some questions.

Oana Lungescu:Merci beaucoup, Roland. So any questions in English or in French, and we'll start with Agence France-Presse.

Q: Oui, bonjour, colonel, Pascal Mallet de l'Agence France-Presse, est-ce que vous pourriez répéter s'il-vous-plaît les chiffres que vous avez donné, les pourcentages et le nombre de missions humanitaires. Et ensuite répéter aussi que l'aéroport de Tripoli ne servait plus depuis des semaines ou des mois au contrôle aérien, simplement pour que les choses soient bien claires. Ensuite, une seule petite question, est-ce que l'OTAN peut confirmer que Brega a été pris par les rebelles? J'ai du mal à croire que l'OTAN ne soit pas informée de la véracité ou pas des affirmations des deux bords sur l'effet que Brega a été pris ou pas. Merci.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Donc, spécifiquement sur les chiffres liés aux missions humanitaires, du point de vue aérien, nos dossiers indiquent qu'il y a eu un total de 528 vols transportant de l'aide humanitaire qui... qui ont atterris en Libye, dont le dernier à ma connaissance s'est produit hier à Tripoli, six ou sept heures après que nous ayons frappé une antenne qui servait à des fins militaires à l'aéroport de Tripoli.

Si on ajoute à ça, les autres moyens on a aussi 123 arrivages par mer qui ont été notés depuis le début de la mission en Libye. Ce qui représente globalement si on prend le côté air et mer ensemble une augmentation substantielle du trafic en termes d'aide humanitaire. Ce qui représente environ 15% depuis... selon au cours du dernier mois en fait. Il n'y a absolument aucune limitation. Et j'insiste là-dessus, absolument aucune limitation à l'arrivée d'aide humanitaire en Libye. En fait, avec nos moyens sophistiqués nous avons la possibilité de coordonner et aussi d'éviter tout conflit par rapport au trafic aérien ou maritime.

Quant à Brega, nous sommes tout à fait conscients de différentes allégations de parts et d'autres sur l'évolution tactique sur le terrain. Nous suivons ceci de près. Évidemment, ce n'est pas à moi de commenter les résultats de ces actions. L'action de l'OTAN se limite à notre mandat, c'est-à-dire de protéger la population civile, de s'assurer qu'elle ne subisse aucune attaque et pour s'assurer aussi qu'elle ne soit pas menacée.

Comme vous le savez, la situation à Brega est très fluide. Elle est changeante. Et nous allons suivre la situation de près au cours des prochains jours.

Oana Lungescu:Jane's.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. Just a small technical question on this air tower. If it was a key antenna site I assume there must be other back-up antenna for civilian landing purposes. If not, how are these aircraft being guided? Are you using the AWACS to guide them into the Tripoli airport, or what? Thank you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Actually, that antenna is not required to allow the landing of aircraft because its function was to track the air traffic from a distance. So it's not to provide landing assistance at all. You raise an important point, however, in terms of backups. It is of use that there's always the possibilities that some specific targets that we may engage could eventually be repaired and this is the reason why we constantly monitor with sophisticated intelligence airborne means the situation. And sometimes we have to revisit specific military targets to ensure that they are not repaired or reactivated.

Does this answer your question?

Oana Lungescu:I think it does. AP. Can you... Pascal, could you possibly just turn that off. Merci.

Q: Yes, Colonel, Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. I used to be a commercial pilot. I have to say I'm surprised to find out that air traffic control doesn't use radars to guide planes and to clear them for landing. As far as I know it's routine procedure, especially when there are several plains in holding pattern over the airport and in conditions of low visibility to use the radar to keep a safe distance between the planes and both horizontally and vertically and to clear them for the final approach.

So, I have to say I'm very surprised that you would say that the radar isn't necessary. I don't know any traffic controller who would agree with you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Thank you for the question. The Triopli airport still has the ability to control the landing of aircraft, so I will not go into the details of that specific target, but I could assure you that air traffic, especially the air traffic that is authorized and legitimate, will in no way be prevented from landing in Tripoli as a result of that engagement.

And as I mentioned, no later than yesterday, just a few hours after that target was hit, there was a successful, of course, and safe landing of a humanitarian aid aircraft.

Oana Lungescu:ANSA.

Q: Yes, hi. My question is about an inquiry that was opened in Italy about a big storage of weapons that just disappeared from La Maddalena last May. The government declared that this matter is classified, but there is a high suspect that the weapons were delivered to the rebels in Libya.

Considered that the weapons were confiscated by NATO in 1994, do you know where they were delivered or at least can you say to me if these weapons were still under the NATO responsibility or not? Thanks.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: I'm sorry this question is too specific for me to be able to provide you with an answer. I would ask you that you contact us through our media relations people and we'll look into it.

Oana Lungescu:Marisa, yes, we've seen some press reports. I haven't seen the specifics of those press reports, but from all I've seen it looks like a matter for the Italian authorities.


Q: Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and Global Post. A quick question on the antenna. If it was important for the rebels and not important for NATO why didn't you take it out already? Four months in? I realize it takes some time to gather your data and to make sure that this is a valid target, but why would you have left it standing for four months?

And another question, I just wanted to check on the status of what coordination there is or is not with the rebels. As you're aware, there is a lot of criticism with this latest assault on Brega, that NATO air strikes were being performed in coordination with rebels to soften the ground for their approach to Brega, and some rebels are complaining of poor coordination with NATO, which indicates there's some level. Just checking on that, thanks.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Thank you, your first question on the number of targets, we are engaging thousands of targets. If you look at the daily updates the total is over... I think we had something like 15 was it... actually it's thousands, sorry, in terms of numbers. I want to make sure I have the right one.

Okay, so basically we're talking about 5,902 sorties, which basically engaged 3,025 targets, and of course we're not taking all these targets at the same time.

I would like to stress also, that before engaging a target NATO wants to make sure that this specific target first, is for a military use, and second, and very, very important that taking this target will not endanger the civilian population. So basically there's a lot of intelligence work that needs to be done before we engage indiscriminately at a specific target.

In that specific case we had clear indication that it was being used for perceiving and tracking our action and unfortunately I could not go into the details, but we had the certainty of its military use and this is why we took that specific target.

With respect to the alleged coordination with opposition forces in the area of Brega, we do not... NATO does not have direct coordination with opposition forces, or rebel forces in Brega.  We don't have contact, direct contact, with them, and we follow the situation through Allied information sources that is in the area.

Oana Lungescu:On the issue of targets, Teri, I can tell you that the latest update is we've damaged or destroyed over 3,000 targets since the start of this operation. These are legitimate military targets, and they include over 350 radar systems, SAM missiles and site storage. They also include approximately 190 command-and-control facilities and a stunning over 850 ammunition facilities, which shows you how... what large quantities of ammunition the Qadhafi regime has been accumulating in the last 40 years.

I know we have more questions here. I'd like to go to Naples to see if there are any other questions there, and then we'll come back to Brussels. Roland?

Moderator: No questions from Naples.

Oana Lungescu:Very good. So we can go to the Kuwaiti News Agency.

Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency KUNA. Colonel, can you tell us what is exactly the situation in Brega? Has it fallen in the hands of the anti-Qadhafi forces?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: The situation in Brega is very fluid. We are tracking some actions in and around Brega and this evolves over the days. Certainly globally as a region the situation is still very volatile and it would be premature for us to come with a verdict with respect to the situation there. So this will certainly be something we'll monitor closely in the coming days.

I want to stress also that like as a spokesperson for NATO here, my role is not to provide operational updates for either pro-Qadhafi or anti-Qadhafi forces within Libya.

Oana Lungescu:Wall Street Journal.

Q: Oana, Stephen Fidler from the Wall Street Journal. You said earlier that it was essential that message coming out of Istanbul, it was essential for all of the international community to speak with one voice. Over the last week or so there have been a number of voices coming out, including from NATO members, about the wisdom of... or suggesting that the opposition should negotiate with the government and other suggestions that perhaps Qadhafi can remain in the country, or if he steps down. What is NATO's position here? Can Qadhafi step down and remain in the country? Does he have to leave the country and submit himself to the International Criminal Court, or is this just a matter for the Libyan people to sort out among themselves and really the international community has no say in it?

Oana Lungescu:Stephen, as we've said, it is for the Libyan people to determine the future of Libya. For NATO what is clear is the mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 and especially under 1973 the protection of civilians against attacks and the threat of attacks. And that is the mandate for the military operation that we are conducting.

The military goals of this operation are also clear and they were set back in April by NATO Foreign Ministers in Berlin and they are an end to all attacks against civilians, the withdrawal of all regime forces and mercenaries back to barracks and bases and full and unhindered access to humanitarian aid.

Having said that, NATO is doing its job on the military track. It is for others, in particular the United Nations and the Contact Group to take the lead on the political track. And it's clear that there has to be a political solution, ultimately, because this is not the sort of conflict to which there can ever be a military solution only.

So NATO fully supports all initiatives towards that goal and NATO is part of the Contact Group and that was the message that the Secretary General took to Istanbul last week.

We welcome the fact that there is a very clear message and that has been a consistently clear message from the Contact Group. Qadhafi has to go. That message was also endorsed by NATO Foreign Ministers back in April, and that message stays the same.

Jane's, follow-up?

Q: Yes, I want to follow-up to the missile question, particularly the one asked by our colleague, which was a very interesting one, and that was, these missiles if they were confiscated by NATO decades ago, fair enough, but where were they stored and had they been stored up until their disappearance on a NATO-designated facility, yes or no? If they weren't, problem resolved, it's for the Italian Government. If they were, problem for NATO. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu:As I said, I haven't seen the details of those reports. From what I've seen this is clearly a matter for the Italian authorities.

Any other questions, either here or in Naples?

Moderator: No questions for Naples.

Oana Lungescu:Okay. Thank you very much, Roland. Merci beaucoup.