Press briefing on Libya

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

  • 06 Sep. 2011
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  • Last updated: 06 Sep. 2011 19:02

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Welcome to everybody here in Brussels, and in Naples and those who are following on the internet. We're joined by Naples, as you can see, by Colonel Roland Lavoie, the military spokesman for Operation Unified Protector.

Before we begin I'd like to thank Italy and the Italian broadcaster RAI for hosting this video transmission and technical infrastructure for today's broadcast. Grazie mille.

Just a few words on the latest political developments. The Secretary General was in Paris last week to meet President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Fillon, and the Defence and Foreign Ministers. He also took part in the international conference on Libya, co-chaired by President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron of Britain.

This was an important milestone in bringing together the international community to support the emerging new Libya. Participants supported the continuation of Operation Unified Protector for as long as necessary in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The meeting also reaffirmed the role of the United Nations in coordinating effective and quick support for the people of Libya during the transition and civilization phase.

The Secretary General made clear, as you heard him do yesterday in the press conference, that NATO stands ready to play a supporting role in the post- conflict era if needed and requested.

The next Friends of Libya meeting has been scheduled for September the 20th on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, and of course the Secretary General has been invited.

Libya is turning a new page in its history. The situation in Tripoli and in many other parts of the country is returning to normal faster than many would have thought, so it's high time that the remnants of the regime accepts reality, lay down their weapons and deal with divisions through dialogue, not bloodshed.

Before I hand over to Roland in Naples for the weekly operational update, I'd also like to tell you that on Sunday, the 11th of September, there will be a ceremony here at NATO Headquarters to commemorate the victims of terrorism. The NATO Secretary General will make an address and the ceremony will be attended by NATO permanent representatives, partner ambassadors, the Deputy Secretary General, the Chairman of the Military Committee, military representatives and senior NATO officials.

You are invited to take part, so the media can attend throughout the ceremony. Please don't come to NATO any later than 15:00.

And with that I hand over to Roland for the weekly operational update. Roland.

Colonel Roland Lavoie (Spokesperson for the Operation Unified Protector): Thank you, Oana. And welcome to those who are joining us in Naples here and Brussels and via the internet.

Since our last update the overall situation in Libya has continued to improve in multiple areas. Indeed, a significantly improved security situation is gradually allowing Libyans to start rebuilding their country. Humanitarian aid is coming in by sea, by land, by air, and now through the Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli. Commercial activity is increasing. Basic utilities are being fixed or reintroduced. Guns are being removed from the streets of liberated cities and diplomatic relations and missions in Tripoli are resuming.

Of note very good news yesterday was that water had been restored to most areas of Tripoli.

While many cities and smaller communities enjoy relative security, pro-Qadhafi forces are still present in varying degrees in the areas of Bani Walid, Sirte, near the Al Jufrah oasis and surrounding communities and the region of Sebha. Of course, Qadhafi forces cannot reverse the momentum. Their capabilities are degraded, mercenaries are fleeing and many former regime leaders and military commanders are abandoning their followers.

Yet, Qadhafi is still issuing threats, calling for acts of aggression and commanding remaining military assets in a senseless attempt to maintain control over populated areas.

I would like to say a few words on news reports mentioning the movements of vehicles towards Niger and other neighbouring countries of Libya.

NATO continuously receives reports from various sources regarding weapons, vehicles and even convoys of vehicles moving throughout Libya. We do not discuss the intelligence and surveillance information we collect, but we do publicly announce actions we take when we act on the threats to the civilian population.

To be clear, our mission is to protect the civilian population in Libya, not to track and target thousands of fleeing former regime leaders, mercenaries, military commanders and internally displaced people.

When movements of troops and equipment represent a threat to civilians or civilian centres we take action. Just in the last two weeks two large convoys were moving towards a population centre in the vicinity of Sirte and we destroyed these vehicles because they constituted a threat. We remain focused on our United Nations mandate to protect civilians for as long as necessary, but no longer than necessary.

I'm now available to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu: And we'll start in Brussels. First, FT Deutschland.

Q: You probably... you said that you found a lot of arms and weapons. How many of these arms and weapons were Chinese? Was it a significant number or- was it just a very small number? Thanks.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: I'm seeing that we are targeting from 20 to 30,000 feet the weaponry we found on the ground. To be frank with you it's not obvious to comment on the origin of these weapons. You're probably aware that a significant portion of the weaponry that was available in the regime was from a former Soviet era.

Oana Lungescu: Follow-up.

Q: Sorry to be more precise, the National Transitional Council, what kind of weapons did they find? Did they find a lot of weapons coming from China? Or maybe they didn't inform you about anything? Thanks.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Unfortunately I don't have any information on the origin of the weaponry that is found in Libya.

Oana Lungescu: As you know, NATO has been successfully enforcing the arms embargo under the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and will continue to do so as we are mandated to do. You may also have seen the statements by the Chinese foreign ministry. A spokesperson yesterday who said that no arms deal had been struck, no arms had been delivered. And as you also know China is a full member of the United Nations Security Council and that Security Council approved the mandate for Operation Unified Protector. And that mandate still stands.

Defence News.

Q: A question about... a commentator or two has mentioned that deficiencies or shortfalls that you've had in Libya have been close air support and suppression of enemy defences. In particular one said that a lack of U.S. air support may have lengthened the war. Can you comment on that, and can you say if there are other particular high priorities where there were European capability shortfalls?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Yes. Close air support is not relevant to this mission because it's not part of this mission. From an operational perspective here we are using the tools that have been put at our disposal, and if I could do the analogy, we're using a toolbox. We don't need to have 20 times the same tools. What we need is a set that allows us to do our job.

The commander has said numerous times that he believes that we were properly equipped with the right set of tools to do our job. Of course, we were tracking very closely all the force generation efforts that were made by our higher Headquarters and by nations to solicit and to provide us with the assets we needed. But generally speaking if you look across the spectrum of military capabilities we had the eyes in the skies. We had the ability to strike. We had the ability to do air-to-air refuelling. We had the ability to conduct an arms embargo with a strong maritime presence.

So we felt that this mission actually reflects success of force generation of all participating countries.

Oana Lungescu: Julian, you will have noticed that this operation has successfully been enforcing the UN mandate and that European nations, together with Canada and contributing partners, were able to take the lead and provide the vast bulk of resources needed, even during these times of economic austerity. And that is a very positive lesson learned from the Libya operation, which of course is still ongoing.

But as you heard the Secretary General say yesterday, this operation would not be possible without unique and essential United States' assets and capabilities, and looking forward to the Chicago Summit we will continue to look to all Allies to do everything they can to ensure that they continue to pool and share resources, and find smart defence solutions to acquire and develop the capabilities that we all need for the range of operations that NATO is conducting.

Bulgarian press.

Q: Thank you. Libya reported this morning quoting TNC members as saying that some East European countries might have also sold weapons to the Qadhafi regime. Do you have an idea whose those countries might be, and is it correct to assume that they are not members of NATO? Thank you.

Oana Lungescu: I have not seen those reports and I can't comment on them.

Over here?

Q: Bonjour, quotidien Liberté Alger, voilà, en fait, Gilles de Kerchove qui est le coordinateur de la lutte anti-terroriste au niveau européen a déclaré hier à Bruxelles que des rebelles s'étaient emparés d'armes et y compris des missiles sol-air. Est-ce que vous pouvez infirmer ou confirmer cette information? Est-ce que vous avez des éléments qui viennent compléter ce qu'a dit hier Gilles de Kerchove?

Colonel Roland Lavoie: Je vous inviterais à le consulter pour accéder à ces données. J'aimerais aussi mettre en contexte que ces commentaires ont été faits dans un cadre global africain qui va de là... de loin au-delà de la mission d'Unified Protector. Malheureusement, je n'ai pas d'information à donner sur ce sujet-là.

Oana Lungescu: Roland, we can go over to you in Naples for any questions there.

Colonel Roland Lavoie: No questions from Naples.

Oana Lungescu: I see one follow-up from Julian.

Q: Yesterday the Secretary General mentioned drones, refuelling aircraft, strategic airlift as areas where Europe needed to work towards developing more capabilities. Do you agree with that and can you say anything more specific on what the Europeans should be developing.

Oana Lungescu: Julian, I think what the Secretary General was saying, what he has been saying all along is that we have the resources needed to conduct this operation. He has put on the record his concern about the medium- and long-term impact of the decline in defence budgets, but he's also not naive. He knows that there isn't going to be any more money for some time to come at least, so his appeal is for smart defence as a solution. We won't have more money so we have to spend it smarter. And that applies to the whole range of capabilities you've mentioned. But, we do have the resources we need to conduct this operation, as you can see from the effectiveness of the current operation.

And one last follow-up over there, FT Deutschland.

Q: In Chicago, what do you think? Will there be any, let's say, concrete announcement that some countries will say, let's say, I don't know … we will share this or we will build up together this or that capability? Or will it be more... will it rather be like a declaration, we have to pool and share more or we have to start smart defence, and will it be on that level, or will it be on very abstract level, or will it be on a concrete level? Will there be concrete announcement? Thanks.

Oana Lungescu: As you know, the Chicago Summit will take place in May next year. So we're not going to prejudge the discussions that Defence Ministers, Foreign Ministers and NATO Heads of State and Government are yet to have. Clearly, smart defence is one of the issues that the Secretary General hopes to see on the agenda and quite high at the top.

Thank you very much.