Accuracy of NATO Attacks Having Desired Effects in Libya

NAPLES—(ENEWSPF)—6 April 2011.  Full text of speech given at the Press Conference held in Naples on April 6 by Rear Admiral Russell Harding OBE, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.

Ladies and Gentlemen… welcome to Naples and thank you very much for being here today.

Last Thursday, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the Commander of NATO’s Combined Joint Task Force Operation Unified Protector announced that NATO had assumed full responsibility for air and maritime operations in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat in Libya.

Today I would like to update you on our first five days of full operations, something we hope to do regularly. The next one will be Friday, and then weekly.

Acting under UN mandate, the NATO mission has maintained enforcement of the air and maritime embargo on Libya, has enforced the No-Fly Zone and has moved with determination to protect the people of Libya from attack.

On 1 April, the NATO-led international coalition force of naval vessels, submarines and aircraft commenced strikes against mobile military sites and air defence systems along the Libyan coast.

This action prevents attack on Alliance aircraft allowing for enforcement of the No-Fly Zone, and prevents the use of heavy weaponry against Libyan civilians whom the government famously told could expect ‘no mercy’.

Although limited by poor weather for a few days, Alliance air assets have effectively engaged Libyan combat forces on the ground to mitigate their capabilities and protect the areas toward which they have advanced.

You will be aware that, over the past few days, Libyan government forces have increasingly shifted to non-conventional tactics, blending in with road traffic and using civilian life as a shield for their advance. As a consequence, they have moved in the direction of Ajdabiya, posing a direct threat to that city, and beyond that, to Benghazi.

In response, NATO has pursued direct strikes on advancing forces and their logistical and munitions supply chains.

NATO has also used surgical air strikes to sever the main supply route between Ajdibaya and Misrata.

In doing so, NATO forces have been particularly careful to avoid injury to civilians who are in close proximity to the fighting, often precisely because of the tactics of government forces. This action has been directed by General Bouchard to slow down advancing forces, in order to prevent attacks on Libyan civilians and to support the wider international effort to end the fighting within the framework of UNSCR 1973.

These strikes achieved their main effect, reducing the capacity of government forces to threaten the lives or besiege the cities of the Libyan people.

Indeed, we believe we have reduced by up to 30% the Libyan military capacity which has been mobilized for aggressive action. We have also rendered their air force inoperative and we have seriously degraded their air defences.

These last are critical factors in ensuring civilian protection.

Today, Operation Unified Protector has more than 100 fighter and support aircraft in action as well as a dozen naval vessels from several nations operating under NATO command.

We have achieved a seamless transition from Coalition Odyssey Dawn and are resolved to demonstrate the same commitment and effectiveness.

NATO is operating under a very clear international legal mandate and with broad regional support.

It will take action against any party that threatens aggression or violence, or acts in contravention of UNSCR 1973.

We have the resources and the will to achieve that mandate from the international community and I would like to express thanks to all of the contributing nations – and in particular to the United States as it transitions to a supporting role – for the assets and people they have committed to this mission.

I would now like to clarify an issue that has been reported in the news media.

Some media and TNC leaders have stated that NATO has picked sides and at the same time that we have mostly been destroying Libyan military targets.

Let me be clear: we will attack any forces that mean to harm innocent civilians.

I would remind you that it is Col Gadhafi who has stated he will show no mercy to his own population, and it is his military that has shelled civilians, bombed cities and continues to threaten innocents.

Again, we will attack any forces that mean harm to the civilian population.

Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to visit our facility today. We continue to carry out our mission to protect the people of Libya during this conflict.

As you can understand, I do have to attend to my duties but I can take a few questions.

Thank you.

Martino Billosio – Associated Press

Q: Despite of content of your statement, rebel military leaders are saying NATO is failing in its mission to protect Libyan civilians and quote that NATO don’t do anything even though the United Nations gave them right to act.   If you could give a comment on that and what do you plan to do to regain the rebels’ trust.

A:  I think I’d stop with the last bit of your question.  The UN mandates and the Security Council resolutions and that which NATO has signed up to do, is to protect the civilian population; let me be clear, it didn’t say to gain the trust of either side in doing that; the trust is for the International community to accept that NATO is acting in accordance with the mandate and doing what it said it would do.  I can say that in the first five days we have flown in excess of 850 missions the substantial portion of which were strike missions I know personally myself that we’ve ranged from the west  from arms munitions depots that were used to re-supply the forces for the second ……..forces and all the way through.  If you look in the last 24 hours, we’ve taken substantial action in the area of Misurata as well, against heavy mechanized units and tanks precisely to protect the civilian population.  Perhaps there is a problem in that I think Libya must be nearly eight hundred miles wide if not a thousand miles wide – I think eight hundred, and in all that

air space we are dominating and so perhaps – and I m not criticizing anyone-in one or 2 areas if they don’t hear us or see us for some hours, I can understand how that might lead to lack of confidence, but I can reassure you that every hour of every day we are watching what is going on in Libya and making sure that we are protecting the civilians.  Thank you.

Jeff Lewis – Stars & Stripes

Q: Critics of NATO in the past have pointed out that in previous missions the Alliance tends to really rely heavily on U.S. military power as opposed to other partner nations with the U.S. militaries set to take more of a supporting role in know,  how do you see that affecting the ability of NATO to carry out its mission and since April 1st, you know, if you can put a percentage to it;  how many sorties or strike sorties have been carried out by U.S. aircrafts versus Alliance other member state aircrafts.

A: You said from the first of April?  I think you can answer it in two ways.  In the beginning with coalition Odyssey Dawn as I knew, the substantial portion were U.S. strikes assets.  In the beginning of OUP, I would say… just under half were U.S. sorties and since then, the number of US strike assets has…sorry I’ll do this the other way, the number of US strikes assets has gone down and at the same time as NATO is taking over and the NATO nations who were not involved in the coalition Odyssey Dawn brought their aircrafts forward those numbers have come up to compensate, and I think I said to you – and I’m not going to do precise numbers- over a hundred aircrafts are doing this today, mostly aligned along the southern Mediterranean –sorry, the southern coast of Europe- and the Mediterranean aligned opposite Libya, so in answer, in the beginning, a substantial proportion let’s say, were U.S. strikes assets, since then, that number, as President Obama has said himself, has gone down and they have been replaced by NATO assets as we’ve brought them over for readiness and from other partners.

Q: Italy and France have already recognized the rebel forces that will change the situation for the NATO operativeness on the ground or not?

A: Sorry  could you repeat your question. You said Italy and France have already recognized ….

Q: Gianfranco Frattini which is the Prime Minister of Italy and President Sarkosy of France have already recognized the rebel forces as government in Bengasi, I suppose, so that situation change on the ground the operativeness of NATO airstrikes or not?. Does it make any difference to you?

A: No, no that doesn’t make any difference to me because NATO – I take the mandate from the decisions of NATO up in Belgium; whatever the North Atlantic Council signs up to, we then get the mission and the execution directives to carry out this mission as agreed by the representatives in NATO.  So whether individual countries – and I think there’s a third country that has recognized the transitional national Council, makes no difference to our mission here today.  It may make some difference inside those countries, but it’s not for me to comment on that or to be hinted or encouraged by that.   Thank you.

Q: Hello, I wanted to ask a couple of questions.  One was on the rebels that have criticized NATO for having stopped boats with aid and arms from getting into Misurata, and I wanted to know if that comes under the naval embargo or NATO’s position, really, on aid and arm ships.  And the second question was on the refugees that have been found dead, I mean the ones that were trying to get across to Italy.  There have been hundreds of them and I was wondering if NATO is going to be helping in any way with that.   Thank you.

A: I was going to stop with the last one but I’ll stop with the first one.  The rebels and stopping boats on the embargo:  There are three things we’re doing.  We’re doing the embargo, the no-fly zone and the protect-civilians

missions.  The embargo started first…nearly ten days ago now, and the job of that is to make sure that arms and other prescribed goods don’t go into Libya.  Some people will know yesterday there were a range of vessels boarded by NATO, boarding officers from a range of countries went onboard those ships and inspected and looked at the manifest of those vessels spoke to the commanding officers and looked at exactly what they had, and discussions were underway with the headquarters down in Nisida here in Naples led by Admiral Veri, and then discussions with this headquarters in NATO and I think what you will find at the end of the day, that no vessels were detained by NATO in that respect.  And in the second one, as a Naval Officer, I can say that if there are lives at threat at sea and you are nearby it’s your duty as a sailor as Naval Officer or Commanding Officer to take action in that, if you are nearby. It’s not part of NATO’s mission at the moment to go and look for those who want to leave North Africa or leave at anywhere and go across.  The point of arrival is a national issue, so if they land somewhere – a country called “ Orange”, on the other side of the Mediterranean – it’s for that nation to deal with that, so it’s very precise, if you’re nearby and there’s a life-saving emergency, you’re required to respond as you would do under any moral obligation in yourself and it’s not for NATO to look at those refugees and take action on that because the mission is the embargo.

Q: There was news of a woman on a boat who was pregnant and she gave birth the next day, and NATO boat had said that there was no emergency.

A:  I am not aware of that.  Maybe we can follow up on that but sorry, I’m not aware of that situation myself. I’m sorry.

Q: The rebels have hardly criticized NATO for what has happened in Misurata, to the point that they said they consider NATO to be a problem for them.  You said you will attack anyone who will attack civilians, but Gheddafi continues using human shields to proceed in his fight.  How do you intend to intervene?

A: I think your question was about human shields at the end, protecting civilians, and I think you’ve mentioned Misurata at the same time.  If I can say a couple of things about Misurata. We are watching the whole country from the west to the east and south and we are looking for forces that are taking action directly against civilian populations and civilian areas or forces that are threatening those areas directly.  And we’re also looking at the logistics that support those forces, we’re also looking at where they get their munitions and their gas petroleum at the same time, and we’re looking at forces that might threaten further out. So for an example, there are forces around in the deepest south that we are watching at this moment, and these forces have popped themselves up against civilian population concentrations which we watch and will take action.

On the particular issue of Misurata, I said a moment ago, yesterday – I can’t remember the exact time -a substantial number of heavy vehicles and tanks were attacked and destroyed by NATO aircrafts in Misurata.  Those vehicles and tanks could directly attack the population and probably had been doing so at that time.  There is an issue though, with destroying tanks in built up areas without harming innocent civilians, and that’s the issue that’s been going on with Misurata.

I’ve heard your point about human shields it’s very difficult for an aircraft to take action if civilians are being used as human shields from up in the air, but I can say that where we can take action –and we are taking action in Misurata, and I know this has been a question-, we are – and before coming in here I checked that my information is correct and the aircraft have taken action and continue taking action in Misurata or indeed anywhere else where the population is threaten, but I think you’d understand as I say, they’re trying to protect human shields when there’s a tank with dozens of people around about it of innocent civilians, the best thing in that stage is to not to drop a bomb on the tank.  So there’s a limit, a physical limit because we’re not allowed boots on the ground there is a limit to what we’re able to do in that respect but that doesn’t mean to say we don’t have the will and the intent to take action to stop that. Does that answer your question?   Thank you.

Conference adjourned 14.45