Press briefing on Libya

by Carmen Romero, the NATO Deputy Spokesperson and Colonel Roland Lavoie, Operation ‘’Unified Protector’’ military spokesperson

  • 26 Jul. 2011
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  • Last updated: 27 Jul. 2011 09:11

Carmen Romero (NATO Deputy Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Welcome back to NATO. Welcome also to Colonel Roland Lavoie, our military spokesperson for Operation Unified Protector, who will give you an operational update in a moment.

But before I hand over to Roland there are two brief points I would like to make from here, from NATO Headquarters.

First, on Libya. NATO Allies and our partners are following developments in the country closely. Our mission is to prevent attacks and threats against civilians and nations are absolutely determined to continue that mission. We have made clear that there has to be a political solution to the crisis, but we have made it equally clear that our military operation will continue for as long as it is needed. Qadhafi cannot wait us out. And as long as his forces continue to attack or threaten civilians and as long as they continue to try and cut off humanitarian aid, our operations will continue in Libya.

Second, on Afghanistan, over the last week you have seen that Afghan Security Forces have formally taken the security lead in seven provinces and districts. This is an important milestone which puts almost a quarter of the Afghan population under the protection of the Afghan National Security Forces. NATO and partner forces continue to support them, but in those areas, the Afghans are in the lead, and this is what transition is all about.

This is part of our agreed strategy and it is a significant step towards our shared goal of seeing Afghans in the lead across the country by the end of 2014.

NATO congratulates the Afghans on the progress they have made so far. And we will continue to stand by them as they take responsibility for more and more of the country.

And with that I will hand over to Roland in Naples. Roland, the floor is yours, please.

Colonel Roland Lavoie (Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector): Thank you, Carmen, and bonjour and welcome to those who are joining us from Brussels, and also from here in Naples.

It has been another intensive week here in our campaign and I'm pleased to give you a short overview and to answer to your questions.

Let's take a look at the current situation on the ground in Libya, which remains very, very dynamic. Fighting between pro- and anti-Qadhafi forces continues on multiple fronts throughout the country. The scene is very volatile, resulting in a dangerous situation for the civilian population.

Both Brega and Misrata areas continue to be heavily contested and the situation is constantly changing. In Brega pro-Qadhafi forces are trying to contain the advance of anti-Qadhafi forces through the use of obstacles, including minefields and burning oil trenches. Pro-Qadhafi forces are using the Zliten and Tawurga areas as bases from which to conduct indiscriminate shellings against Misrata, the city's population and its harbour, which is a point of entry for lifesaving humanitarian aid.

Munitions launched from a distance, mines and burning oil trenches, are being used by pro-Qadhafi forces in a manner that does not differentiate between non-combatants and anti-Qadhafi fighters. They further imperil the lives of the citizens in the areas.

Tripoli, of course, remains the centre of Qadhafi's campaign against the Libyan civilian population. It is from there that attacks against the populations are planned, and directed, from facilities like the Bab Al-Aziziyah compound. The compound, measuring over six square kilometres, is a command-and-control headquarters for this regime, including army barracks and a small air strip.

Within Tripoli and throughout the rest of the country the Qadhafi regime is systematically deceiving its own population and leading a campaign of misinformation for the world to watch. You will have seen the Qadhafi regime organizing rallies, taking journalists to bogus strike areas, claiming that NATO is targeting civilian facilities, or portraying those who oppose him as traitors.

Pro-Qadhafi forces are increasingly occupying facilities which once held the civilian purpose. These sites include former stables, agricultural facilities, commercial and industrial warehouses, factories and basic food-processing plants. By occupying and misusing these facilities the regime has transformed them into military installations from which it commands and conducts attacks, causing them to lose their formerly protected status and rendering them valid and necessary military objectives for NATO.

Looking now at NATO operations, our forces continue to focus on the highly-contested areas of Brega and Misrata, including former civilian structures now used by the military. This is helping to alleviate the pressure on the population, of course.

Again, I want to assure you that NATO assesses all strike targets with the utmost diligence and care after rigorous intelligence analysis. In the Zliten area NATO has struck a variety of targets. These consist of military facilities, rocket launchers, tanks, military vehicles and adapted armed vehicles. The purpose of these strike is the protection of the population and maintaining the lines of communications for humanitarian shipping.

Now in the areas of Brega NATO strikes included armoured vehicles, rocket launchers, military storage facilities and a repurposed concrete factory from which pro-Qadhafi forces were using multi-barrel rocket launches, exposing the population to indirect fire.

Let me show you some intelligence pictures that illustrate what we have observed at this concrete factory.

Slide one, please. By the way, these pictures will be made available on the NATO site, so it would be possible for the media to download them.

So basically repeatedly over the past few weeks we got clear intelligence indicating that pro-Qadhafi forces are using this factory for military purposes. The factory is being used to hide military material, including multiple rocket launchers. These weapons have been used every day from within this factory compound and then carefully hidden after the day, within or along massive concrete pipes that you can see in this picture.

The first picture shows you a multiple rocket launcher on the concrete factory compound.

Could you please put the other slide. Here it is. This picture was taken a few days earlier and shows you different types of military material hidden at the factory.

Thank you much.

So switching the attention now... our attentions to Tripoli, successive strikes in the past week have inflicted extensive damage to military facilities in Tripoli. Most recently NATO planes struck the perimeter of the Bab Al-Aziziyah compound multiple times, destroying vital security towers and reducing the regime's ability to threaten and intimidate the people of Tripoli.

This point cannot be stressed enough. We are acting to protect the Libyan population. Our actions are founded on a UN mandate, and NATO remains fully committed to the protection of civilians from attacks or threats of attacks, continuing arms embargo and to enabling the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance.

I welcome your questions, either in French or in English. Thank you.

Carmen Romero: All right, we have three questions here in NATO Headquarters and then I go to Naples. Please identify yourself. Pascal, please.

Q: Oui, Pascal Mallet, Agence France Presse. Bonjour, Colonel, petite question. La Norvège quitte si j'ai bien compris le champ des opérations, des opérations de bombardement le 1er août. Est-ce que vous avez déjà de quoi combler le trou que ça va créer?

Ensuite, Mme Lungescu porte-parole de l'OTAN avait annoncé le 7 juillet que "quite a few Allies made additional contributions". Depuis le 7 juillet, on attend avec impatience de savoir la nature de ces contributions, le nom de ces alliés, la date à laquelle ils vont enfin intervenir, sachant qu'un allié sur quatre, voir sur cinq, intervient dans ces opérations. Et donc, j'attends votre réponse en liaison avec l'affaire norvégienne. Par ailleurs, certains alliés se plaignent des sous-effectifs qui sont chez vous à Naples et à Poggio Renatico, une maladie persistante de la part d'une Alliance qui paraît-il met tous ses effectifs et ses structures permanents au service de ses opérations. Pouvez-vous où on en est de cette lacune assez grave de sous-effectifs? Enfin, est-ce que... et c'est la dernière question... on bombarde toujours avec autant d'efficacité les objectifs militaires. Selon certains, certains pays particulièrement s'obstinent à bombarder plusieurs fois les mêmes objectifs sans que les résultats soient extrêmement probants. Est-ce qu'il y a eu des discussions tactiques ou politiques, puisqu'il y a les deux aspects, au sein du quartier général? Merci.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Merci pour vos questions. D'abord, je vais répondre d'une façon générale à la première quant au nombre des effectifs et des ressources. Je dirais peut-être en préambule qu'après plus de 20 ans d'expérience dans ce métier, je vous dirais que je n'ai jamais rencontré un seul commandant qui n'aurait pas souhaité avoir davantage de ressources. Et nous savons que Bruxelles est très actif sur le plan politique et diplomatique à s'assurer que nous pouvons renouveler nos ressources et continuer nos opérations essentiellement.

À mon niveau, évidemment, nous parlons au niveau opérationnel, comme vous avez pu le voir, depuis le début de notre opération, nous publions chaque jour les statistiques sur le nombre de missions que nous menons. Ce nombre est resté à peu près constant. Donc, on parle toujours au-dessus de 100 à 140 sorties par jour du côté aérien et du côté naval, le tempo opérationnel, comme on dit dans le jargon, a été tout à fait maintenu.

Donc, c'est évident que tout commandant a toujours des défis pour ce qui est de la répartition de ces ressources. Mais dans l'ensemble nous sommes pleinement en mesure, et je peux vous rassurer là-dessus, d'assumer notre mandat.

L'autre volet, c'est le volet de génération des forces. Et ce volet relève essentiellement de la sphère politique et diplomatique. Mais notre général ici est tout à fait confiant que nous pouvons mener à terme notre mandat.

Quant à l'efficacité des frappes, c'est un petit peu complexe, mais je crois que c'est une question très pertinente. Plusieurs des installations qu'on cible sont des dépôts, des entrepôts, des sites immenses. Et si on regarde notamment le site de commandement et de contrôle du régime à Tripoli. On parle ici de 6 kilomètres carré. Et donc, il est très fréquent qu'il y ait de multiples cibles à l'intérieur d'un même site. Et quand je dis multiple, ça peut être plusieurs dizaines voire davantage.

Par ailleurs, il n'est pas rare de constater que lorsqu'un site a été touché, il peut être réparé ou des troupes peuvent revenir s'y installer. Donc, notre pression, elle doit quand même demeurer constante. Et oui, nous revisitons régulièrement des sites si nous avons des renseignements qui nous permettent d'en déduire que ces sites servent toujours à mener des opérations.

Just maybe to summarize briefly for our English media here, I just said a few words about our resources, stating that essentially the mission here has the resources to sustain its operations as it was demonstrated with the relatively stable numbers of air sorties or naval activities since the beginning of the operation.

I had a question also about the purpose and the relevance of hitting multiple... hitting some targets multiple times, and what I said on that was that several sites, especially, for example, a site like the cement factory or again the command-and-control location in Tripoli, these sites will often include dozens, if not more of targets, so therefore there will be a need to revisit these targets to make sure through several sorties that we take all the relevant targets.

Keeping in mind, also, that our intelligence would reveal after a strike if there's still some military activity on the site and we will, indeed, have to return if we have intelligence revealing that there's still activities on those sites.

Carmen Romero: De toute façon, au sujet de la première question de cet effectif, j'aimerai ajouter quelque chose à ce que mon collègue Roland à dit, c'est que la chose la plus importante, c'est qu'on a toutes les forces, tous les effectifs pour continuer à accomplir notre mission avec le même tempo opérationnel, avec un tempo opérationnel très actif, et bien sûr, le secrétaire-général de l'OTAN continue à avoir des contacts avec des pays alliés au sujet d'une possible augmentation des contributions. Mais il ne faut pas oublier non plus, par exemple, il y a des pays comme le Royaume-Uni qui vient de remonter ses effectifs. Ça veut dire que le processus continue. Et Roland, je crois que Pascal avait encore une question à laquelle tu n'as pas répondu. Pascal... Pascal, tu peux répéter.

Q: Oui, la Norvège, je sais que vous ne répondez pas aux questions politiques. Ce n'est pas une question politique. C'est une question pratique. La Norvège avec quelques avions frappait, participait aux opérations de bombardement. Étant qu'on refuse de nous dire, bien qu'on ait annoncé le 7 juillet qui vient à la rescousse, qui apporte des contributions supplémentaires. Je repose la question: "Qui va remplacer la Norvège?" Merci.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: L'ensemble des contributions nationales sont annoncées lorsque nous avons des annonces à faire à cet effet. Comme j'ai mentionné tout à l'heure, à notre niveau, nous utilisons les ressources que nous avons. Et nous répartissons les tâches en fonction des ressources disponibles. Donc, ce n'est pas une nation en particulier qui a un veto ou non sur la conduite de nos opérations. Je crois que ça fait un peu le tour de la question.

Carmen Romero: Et la prochaine question, ZDF.

Q: My name is Kai Niklasch, Germany Television. Mr. Lavoie, Carmen, in June, after several weeks, I've learned that Brega and Misrata... Misrata is more or less under NATO control. There were little setbacks and but there were days when there were no tanks of Qadhafi's troops seen in the streets. Now I'm hearing other things. Are these major setbacks or is the situation out of control again? How would you describe the situation in Brega and Misrata?

And if it is the way you have already described, how does Qadhafi get all the weapons? Is there still a strong support by any other neighbouring countries we don't know yet? Or how does he get all the weapons, because you have had now over 10,000 sorties and many strikes, but it seems to become a never-ending story. It's now four months that NATO is involved in Libya.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Thank you very much. First, I would like to say that it's not the NATO... the NATO mission is not about winning or losing. It's about basically saving lives. NATO has no intent of taking Brega or any other cities. We are basically monitoring the situation and acting where it is required to prevent attacks on civilians or to prevent a build-up of military capabilities that could stop humanitarian aid, for example.

So we are not a party in that conflict, and we have no intent to be. So this is about the situation in Brega. To qualify it, it's a situation that is very, very fluid. As I said at the beginning, fluid because we have seen, and keeping in mind that this could change like on a daily basis, but what we have seen over the last few days is an increased pressure of the anti-Qadhafi forces who are approaching Brega and the new Brega sectors specifically. And over the last few days the situation has remained fluid and as anti-Qadhafi forces are maintaining the pressure, and also as the Qadhafi forces are using means to slow the advance of the rebels, it has been done especially with mines, and also with trenches with burning oil in it and by assuming a strong defensive position.

So the situation in Brega remains fluid. There's no huge change on that specific front which remains very, very heavily contested.

In terms of weapons we have a mandate, which is basically to maintain an arms embargo. We basically have eyes in the skies and we are taking action where and when appropriate to prevent the circulation of weapons in Libya.

I don't have any intelligence to reveal about where and how Qadhafi forces take their weaponry. Keeping in mind that the regime was already heavily armed before the start of the conflict.

Carmen Romero: We take the third question in Brussels, Slobo.

Q: Yes, nothing to do with Libya, and Carmen, just a question on what's going on in Kosovo. We saw some troubles yesterday. Is that continuing? Do you know what the situation is and what is NATO doing about it?

Carmen Romero: Yes, well, I can tell you that I can confirm that KFOR actually took action immediately yesterday in northern Kosovo to defuse the situation and to reduce the level of tension. And COMKFOR also engaged in dialogue with the main actors in the area. It is very important that the situation is solved peacefully and KFOR is coordinating closely with EULEX to maintain security. And what is clear is that violence is not the way and that custom issues must be resolved through dialogue. So that's all I can tell you at this stage on that issue.

And now, Roland, I think we are going to Naples. Do you have questions there, please?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: No questions from Naples.

Carmen Romero: Okay, then Reuters.

Q: (Inaudible...), Reuters. There are increasing signals from western powers involved in Libya that might see a possibility of a post-Qadhafi era in which Qadhafi's actually allowed to stay in the country. Some kind of a peaceful solution, political solution, diplomatic solution to the conflict which would allow Qadhafi to step down, but remain in the country.

Is this something that NATO would agree to, or back?

Carmen Romero: Roland, if you agree, I will take that question. What is obvious for us is that it is for the Libyan people to decide their political future. So it's not for us to say, to provide a comment on that.

But as you have heard the Secretary General saying many times, he would consider it very difficult to see... impossible, to see a transition to democracy in Libya keeping Qadhafi in power. So that's... but the fate of Qadhafi, it's for the Libyan people to decide and how a transition to democracy can take place in that country.

I don't know, Roland, if there is anything you could... you would like to add to this?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: No, that's fine.

Carmen Romero: I think there is a follow-up from ZDF.

Q: Yes, but it's a different thing if he's still in the country or if he's still in power, so how would NATO see that, if the development... because we had a meeting yesterday between the French and the British Foreign Minister and they are both of the opinion, and it's new for me, that he could stay in the country.

Carmen Romero: Do you remember what the Foreign Ministers of NATO endorsed in Berlin together with our partners? They endorsed the fact... the call of the Contact Group for Qadhafi to leave power, but the fate of Qadhafi is for the Libyan people to decide, so that's all I have to say about that.

And now we go to Belga.

Q: Qui, Gerard Gaudin de Belga. Est-ce que vous pourriez nous donner une évaluation plus récente, mise à jour du pourcentage du potentiel militaire libyen détruit? Une suite. Est-ce que récemment on a encore utilisé des hélicoptères de combat basés sur des navires en mer?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: En termes de statistiques, pour être franc, je n'oserais même pas aller là. Dans le sens, soyons un peu réalistes, nous ne sommes pas sur le terrain. Ce qu'on peut voir, c'est évident que nous faisons une différence évidente sur le terrain, dans le sens que la plupart des installations militaires majeures ont été touchées à de multiples reprises. Nous publions chaque jour, une liste courte de cibles qui ont été soit endommagées ou détruites. Et nous savons que le régime de Qadhafi a été fortement affaibli. Ceci dit, je ne pourrais pas, en toute honnêteté, vous donnez un pourcentage qui pourrait avoir quelque validité empirique que ce soit. Ce qu'on peut observer c'est une diminution de capacité de Qadhafi de communiquer, de contrôler et de mobiliser des ressources. Et c'est d'ailleurs, ce qui explique pourquoi de plus en plus il semble vouloir opérer à partir de cibles qui avaient une vocation antérieure civile et qu'il utilise maintenant à des fins militaires.

Carmen Romero: Any more questions?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Excusez, je crois que vous aviez une seconde question qui m'échappe...

Carmen Romero: I think there is a follow-up from Belga.

Q: Et quant à l'utilisation récente d'hélicoptères de combat?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Là-dessus, je devrais vérifier pour vous revenir, parce que je ne dispose pas ici sur le podium des données opérationnelles détaillées de chacune des multiples nations qui font partie de la coalition. Je vous reviens là-dessus.

Carmen Romero: I think AP had... yes, please.

Q: Yes, Colonel, just as a follow-up to my colleague, Pascal's question, can you confirm that Norway is actually pulling out of the force on August 1st?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Bruxelles, do you want to take this one?

Carmen Romero: No, you... well, I have no confirmation. I will need to check with Norway, so I don't have the latest on Norway actually. I don't know, Roland, if you have the latest from an operational point of view on Norway, but I think it has to be checked with the country itself. Roland, anything to add on this?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: This will be for the country to announce, so I have nothing to say on behalf of Norway at this stage.

Q: (Inaudible...).

Carmen Romero: Well, you know, Pascal, you know our policy is that any announcement on contributions and effectives, I mean, they are made by individual nations, so as I tell you, I haven't got the latest on Norway. I saw the media reports, but we will check that and get back to you.

Any other questions? If that's not the case I thank you very much for listening to us. Thank you. Thank you, Roland.

Q: Colonel, you said in the very beginning that Qadhafi's forces seem to be weakening. On the other hand we see that Qadhafi is increasing, or trying to increase his visibility with the media by taking them to... by having rallies and taking them to see false attack sites. Could these two things be related? Could it be because his power is diminishing he is trying to increase his visibility with the media and show that, in effect, he is still in power and as forceful as ever?

Grazie della domande(ph).

Colonel Roland Lavoie: From a military perspective a commander could use a variety of means to achieve his aim. Part of these means, we call them in the jargon, kinetic, which means basically using force to damage or destroy the enemy's capability. Other means, also, would be classified as non-kinetic and basically information is certainly one tool at the disposition or at the disposal of the Qadhafi regime to make a point. Indeed, the regime of Qadhafi has used information as a weapon. We know that he has organized several so-called media visits during which essentially the media are not usually free to cover what they want. They are brought to a very specific site and allegations are made regarding NATO operations.

So he has used that tactic repeatedly over the last few days. It's maybe a bit early to see a trend in it, but certainly we have received several allegations and we are tracking them very closely.

At the same time, we are investigating these allegations because we want to make sure that what is being said should be ever a reflection of reality that we will be made aware of it and that we would investigate them.