Press briefing on Libya

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

  • 02 Aug. 2011
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  • Last updated: 02 Aug. 2011 22:33

Carmen Romero (Deputy Spokesperson): Good afternoon and welcome back to NATO Headquarters. I will say a few things on Libya and then also a few words on Kosovo.

I would like to start by saying that on Libya NATO Allies and our Partners are following developments in the country closely. While these remain fluid our mission is to prevent attacks and threats against civilians and nations remain resolute in that mission.

If Qadhafi's threats, attacks and obstruction of humanitarian aid continue so will our operations to protect Libyan civilians. But we have always said that a military solution is not enough in Libya. There has to be a political solution to this crisis. Our military pressure is helping to set the conditions for a political solution.

Meanwhile, I can say that the Qadhafi regime is increasingly isolated, and the question is not if Qadhafi will have to step down, but when.

Let me now say a few words on Kosovo. NATO continues to follow events in Northern Kosovo very closely. As you know the North Atlantic Council met last week on July 28th, with our partners in KFOR, to review the situation. And our message is very clear. Violence is unacceptable. We welcome the fact that the situation has calmed down, and dialogue is the only solution to the current situation. KFOR will continue to take the necessary measures within its mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment in close coordination with EULEX.

And with this I will hand over to Roland in Naples for our media operational update on our operations in Libya.

Roland, you have the floor, please.

Colonel Roland Lavoie(Spokesperson for Operation Unified Protector): Bonjour Carmen, and thank you for the introduction. As always I will cover your questions in English or in French, and translations and the transcript from today's update will be made available on the NATO website.

So let us begin. Along the coast, the lines of confrontation between pro-Qadhafi and anti-Qadhafi forces east of Tripoli around Zlitan and in the east near Brega have seen minor fluctuations as anti-Qadhafi forces continue to push westward.

However, there has been a significant increase in activity in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli. Over the weekend the anti-Qadhafi forces have made significant advances in the region towards the village of Al-Jawsh. The retreat of pro-Qadhafi forces from this area has resulted in an encouraging pause in the shelling from Ta'kut into Nalut.

More recently there are unconfirmed reports that the town of Al-Jawsh has been retaken by pro-Qadhafi forces, which illustrates how dynamic the situation remains.

What is significant about these advances is that the main supply route is no longer under the control of pro-Qadhafi forces, allowing humanitarian assistance to move more freely from Tunisia into the region.

For instance, in cities once held by pro-Qadhafi forces, like Yafran, on the northern edge of the Nafusa Mountains, pro-Qadhafi forces had looted or destroyed many businesses, houses, infrastructures and basically the local population was left with little electricity and very low water supplies, and including also no medical clinic.

In Misrata now, while the citizens enjoy relative security, they are still subject to occasional shelling by pro-Qadhafi forces operating out of Tawurga, which is south of Misrata.

The shelling has been centred on the port facilities and the airport, as well as the LISCO fuel storage facility. This facility was not used for military purposes and there was no military advantage for pro-Qadhafi forces to destroy it, as it was providing vital support to the local populations, facilities and public institutions.

During the past week NATO maintained a strong presence across Libya in maritime environments and has moved with determination to protect the people of Libya from attacks, with concentrated air strikes against pro-Qadhafi forces south of Misrata and east of Tripoli around Zlitan. As a result the level of systematic attacks against civilians is relatively low for the time being. NATO continues to deny pro-Qadhafi forces the capability to threaten the civilian population and impede the delivery of humanitarian aid.

As we now have entered the period of Ramadan, and since we have several media queries on NATO's posture for the coming weeks I would like to say a few words on this matter.

NATO and partnering nations have a profound and sincere respect for Muslims and their faith. As we enter the holy month of Ramadan we are all reminded that we share a common respect for human life.

It is greatly hoped that the Qadhafi regime will refrain from attacking the civilian population. People have suffered too much. Many are afraid and all want security.

Our message is clear. There's never a wrong time to protect human life. Now would be a good time for pro-Qadhafi forces to do so. We have seen time and time again the Qadhafi regime shows a shocking disregard for human life, using civilians as human shields and launching attacks from civilian facilities and even mosques. Even last night shelling by pro-Qadhafi forces continued in Misrata where at least 12 explosions were reported in the vicinity of the port.

As long as there are attacks, threats of attacks and incitement of violence against civilians NATO will act to protect them.

This is not a matter of religion, ethnicity or culture, but a commitment derived from a United Nations Security Council Resolution in order to protect innocent victims. Some, including the Qadhafi regime, suggested that NATO should pause and stop enforcing the UN Resolution during Ramadan. To be effective a cease-fire would require a complete cessation of violence from Qadhafi forces. Cessation of violence by the regime must be verifiable and credible.

Pro-Qadhafi forces must return to their bases, stop threatening and attacking civilians and allow the free delivery of humanitarian aid. NATO's view is that a true cease-fire must not be a pause during which the Qadhafi regime can rearm, resupply, regroup or reposition its forces to resume attacks against civilians after the Ramadan. Again, the violence must stop and NATO will remain vigilant and fully committed to its UN mandate and to the population of Libya.

Thank you. I will now take some questions. And Carmen, I believe that we may have a three, four second delay in the sound, so we may have to make an effort to coordinate our response.

Carmen Romero: Very good. So let's try to speak slowly and at the same time, if you agree, we will take the three first questions in Brussels and then move to Naples. Please introduce yourself. David, Reuters.

Q: Yes, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. This bombing campaign's been going on since what, March the 31st. We're several months into it. Each day NATO is announcing that it's destroying Qadhafi's military equipment. Can we ask you, once again, for an estimate as to how much progress has been made? There still seems to be a lot of targets that you're hitting. Do you have an estimate of the strength of his forces?

And at this stage, do you see it, if the violence goes on, that it will be necessary to extend the mandate beyond the end of September?

Carmen Romero: Roland, I will first answer a few elements of the question from David and then hand over to you.

From our point of view here what really matters is the overall effect of the campaign, so it's not to speak about percentages, but the overall effect of what we have achieved, and every day we are saving lives of Libyan people which is what really matters, and this is the mandate that has been given to us by the United Nations.

On the possible extension of the mandate, what I can tell you is that NATO's campaign, NATO's mission will continue as long as it takes, so that's where we are.

Roland, for you?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Carmen, you perfectly made the point. The measure of our success here is to prevent attack against civilians and this is exactly what we are doing and we're seeing the effect on it every day where we operate.

One key element also is the fact that we are depleting the regime's capabilities. And yes, this takes time, but after more than 17,000 sorties we have significantly depleted Qadhafi's forces.

Of course, we're not into a science here in terms of percentage of attrition, but basically we are significantly reducing his ability to conduct attacks against civilians.

Carmen Romero: Next question. It's a follow-up question. Okay, David.

Q: Just to follow up, is NATO completely confident that the arms embargo is completely effective? My understanding from a trip that we made down into the south was that you don't have complete aerial surveillance of Libya so large swathes of the south of the country are actually not really covered by arms embargo capabilities. Are you confident there are no more arms coming into Libya to resupply Qadhafi's forces?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: I could take this one. We could never guarantee totally tight enforcement of an embargo and of course realistically we don't have boots on the ground. What we have, however, is what I believe to be an effective mechanism that basically enforces the spirit of the UN Resolution. I'm not aware of any major issues with the embargo, but of course it will be totally unrealistic to expect a 100 percent tight embargo over a territory of a country as large as Libya.

Carmen Romero: Now we can go to Brooks.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence. I had another, different question about recent bombings. On Saturday NATO said it bombed this television station for propaganda reasons. I mean, I'm trying to understand how that represented a direct threat? I mean, no matter how hateful the... how hatefully someone may try to incite the population to violence that's not a direct physical threat or a direct physical attack against the people. So under what legal grounds did NATO choose to bomb that television station? Thank you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Request for clarification on that. The three satellite transmission dishes that we hit, the specific attack was justified on the principle that the Libyan television was clearly used, not only to disseminate message of propaganda or hated, but specifically used to incite acts of violence.

You may have heard or seen reports of several speeches; speeches that were basically increasing in both frequency and intensities, which were clearly calling for conducting acts of violence against the population in Libya. This was, in a sense, the trigger for our attack on these dishes.

Carmen Romero: Okay, first we go to AP (inaudible) and then we move to Naples.


Colonel Roland Lavoie: So essentially protecting civilian lives, right? So we do believe that by (inaudible...)...

Q: Colonel, would you say in that case that the UN Security Council mandate justifies your attacks on television stations?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: I missed the beginning of the question because of time delay, but if I understand well, you are asking if the UN Resolution mandate justified the attack on the state television and if this is the question, the answer is yes. Because our mandate is a mandate of protecting lives, and from the moment that the tool would be a weapon or a broadcast capability or an antenna, but from the moment that such a tool is used to instigate an attack, or to instigate a crime or the murder of civilians, we do believe that we have to protect the civilians and basically act on that target.

Carmen Romero: I would like to reinforce what Roland has said in the sense that all NATO strikes are against legitimate targets, in full respect of the United Nations Security Council mandate and this one as well, and that we also consider that incitement of violence is a threat to the population. So NATO needed to act in this case.

Carmen Romero: Belga.

Q: FRENCH Oui, Gérard Gaudin de l'Agence Belga. Je voulais vous demander si l'arrivée, je pense, des quatre Tornados supplémentaires britanniques compense à la fois numériquement et en termes de capacité le retrait norvégien?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Merci pour votre question. D'ailleurs, c'est une question qui illustre tout à fait la dynamique dans laquelle nous opérons. C'est-à-dire que nous avons eu les Norvégiens qui ont travaillé avec nous pendant trois mois, plus une période d'extension de 30 jours, donc en tout quatre mois au sein de la force avec le F-16.

Ils ont fait une contribution absolument phénoménale, d'autant plus si on considère la population du pays. Donc, c'est une contribution absolument exceptionnelle qui a été grandement appréciée. On parle ici de 596 missions. Donc, c'est énorme.

Et effectivement, avec le temps, certaines ressources sont renouvelées. Alors que les Norvégiens doivent maintenant consacrer leurs ressources au rôle qu'ils ont dans leur pays avec leur force aérienne, nous pouvons compter sur un nombre équivalent, donc quatre Tornados britanniques.

Sachez que globalement, ce n'est pas une question de remplacer appareil pour appareil, sachant que la force globalement compte sur environ 250 appareils qui sont sous le commandement de Unified Protector. Donc, les ressources que nous obtenons sont utilisées au meilleur de leur capacité.

Carmen Romero: Teri.

Q: A technical question on the strike on Libyan TV. Just immediately after a press release came out in your name saying the TV station had been silenced. There were reports from Tripoli that it was still on the air, and in fact today Saif al Qadhafi has also been seeing speaking on Libyan TV saying that even if NATO considers its operations finished they will continue to fight... his side will continue to fight against the rebels.

And also, if I could just ask you to repeat a bit in English about the Norwegian contingent and the loss of the Norwegian jets, if you think that will affect the operation? Thank you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Thank you. What I said about the end of the mission of the Norwegians is first, I wanted to stress the extraordinary work that they have done. They were with us for an initial mandate of 90 days. That mandate had been extended, so they were with us for four months. They did a fantastic job. They conducted a total of 596 missions, making a significant contribution to our mission. Especially if we consider the size of the Norwegian air force.

So as we say in the military, Bravo Zulu to our Norwegian friends. Excellent.

And then I was basically asked if the additional UK contribution was basically to replace essentially the Norwegian contribution, and what I said was that overall we have about 250 aircraft under the command of Unified Protector and this... regularly our resources are renewed, so some go and some come back, but essentially this allows us to constantly generate and regenerate our capabilities and give the Commander all the flexibility he needs to conduct his missions.

We are grateful for the great work that is being done in Brussels to do the liaison with the countries and solicit on our behalf the resources we need to do the mission, and we are quite satisfied with the situation.

As I mentioned last week, however, I never met a commander who does not ask for more resources, so certainly we're always happy to have additional contributions.

On the television dishes strike, I'm not sure exactly what angle or what aspect you would like me to elaborate on. Could you be a bit more precise, please?

Q: You said that you had silenced Libyan TV because of these hateful broadcasts you considered as threats to civilians, but in fact you didn't. What was the effect of these strikes?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Okay, thank you. There were several orders of effect. One immediate effect was certainly the destruction of these satellite dishes. They were destroyed using state-of-the-art air-launched missiles. The mission was perfectly conducted. We don't normally comment on the nation doing that, but our British friends have acknowledged that they were conducting the mission.

I could tell you that I saw the video of it and basically this was perfectly executed, and from the air view we had of this strike there was no visual damage to the building that was just beside. Keeping in mind that the dishes were on ground, so they were not on a building, so this was relatively an easy target, especially at that time of the night when there was nobody around.

So the first order of effect is the fact that we have degraded the television satellite broadcast capability. Of course, we are fully realistic and aware that this strike by itself did not, and will not, remove the ability of the Qadhafi regime to use television as a weapon or as a means to incite attacks. We are in the process of assessing the situation, and I'm not in a position to speculate on future operations, unfortunately, but as required, we will continue to target any threats we could identify against the civilian population.

Another order of effect, of course, is a clear message. A clear message that NATO will act against weaponry, conventional weaponry, but also against means that are used by the regime to trigger either threats or attacks against the civilian population. I believe that the message was delivered quite clearly.

Carmen Romero: Let's now move to BBC.

Q: Hi, Matt Cole, BBC. Can you share your thoughts on the impact of General Younes' killing on Thursday? Have you fears this is indicating growing divisions amongst the rebel forces, and what thoughts do you have about what this could mean for stability in Libya once NATO's mission concludes, presuming it does.

Carmen Romero: Roland, I will take that question, and well, I can tell you that it's not for NATO to comment on the state of the rebel forces or neither on the death of General Younes, since our mandate, NATO's mandate is to protect civilians.

What we think here is key for the Libyan people is to see an orderly transition to democracy once Qadhafi leaves power, and in that context for us what is important is the Transitional National Council has the great responsibility for the present and for the future of Libya and we expect them to continue to act as a responsible actor, and to help a true democracy to develop in Libya.

So basically we count on the TNC to live up to the expectations of the international community. I can also remind you what the Libya Contact Group stated on July 15th, the last time they met, the participants agreed that to deal with the Transitional National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, and the group also welcomed the role of the TNC in leading the transition towards democracy. So this is our position on that issue.

Now we go to AP. Slobo again.

Q: Just on this issue of sending the reserve battalion to Kosovo. You said they're simply relief forces. Do you know how long they will remain in Kosovo?

Carmen Romero: Well, that's something that only our commander on the ground can say, so we cannot determine right now for how long they will stay. I can confirm, as you were saying, that the activation order for the use of the KFOR operational reserve has been issued, was issued today, and the order was given by the Commander of our Allied Joint Force Command Naples at the request of our Commander in Kosovo.

The reason for the deployment, as you rightly said, is to relieve actually the forces currently on the ground. So these deployments should not be seen as a sign of escalation. On the contrary, the situation, as you know, has calmed down. The situation is actually de-escalating and this is a pure tactical decision to be on the safe side. At the same time, since I have seen many media reports I would like to stress that NATO is not taking sides in this crisis, and that we remain neutral, as a neutral actor, providing a safe and secure environment as mandated to KFOR to NATO by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Yes, Brooks.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's. I have to come back again to this bombing of the TV station. I find this very unusual. So I want to ask you two questions. Was your strike based purely on a subjective decision, that this was a hateful or inciteful language that was used? Meaning you were looking for key words, such as kill, murder or attack?

And second question, did Naples establish any cause and effect of these hate speeches before it decided to strike? Thank you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Essentially the decision to strike and the same rationale applies to any weapons or any means to arm the civilian population, the key element is the fact that there were some explicit incitations to conduct acts of violence, so basically this was the essential.

Of course, we're aware of the broad utilization of the television by the Qadhafi regime and there's a lot of comments that have been made that are either improper or that could be (inaudible), but the key element is basically that television was used as a means to trigger acts of violence. And we would have the same logic when we have to engage a target because we see that, let's say a multiple rocket launcher is being used to threaten civilian or to attack them.

So this is purely military logic. Not something based on semantics or subjectivity.

I'm not sure I'm fully responding to your question, because you had a second aspect you wanted to discuss.

Q: Yes, it seems to me that it was not necessary for NATO to establish a cause and effect. In other words, the incitement was there, and before it had any effect you bombed. I think NATO did this in Serbia, right, during the Balkan wars in '99. So I'm just trying to establish the fact whether you can interpret that as possibly inciting an attack and can bomb before there is any effect of that hate speech, because this is a very key legal point.

Thank you.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: To be frank with you I'm not a lawyer. I'm not fully engaged in the early stage of the targeting process. I would refer you essentially to the statement that was made on that night, during which the ground that was presented to us to conduct the attack was made public. This is as far as I could go.

Carmen Romero: Any more questions? It doesn't seem to be the case in Brussels, but let's please double check with Naples, because I don't want to close this press conference until I'm sure that there are no questions in Naples?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: No questions from Naples.

Carmen Romero: Thank you very much and looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday. Thank you.