NATO Briefing On Events Concerning Libya, 8 April 2011

BELGIUM—(ENEWSPF)—8 April 2011.  Participants in today’s briefing are Oana Lungescu, the NATO Spokesperson and Rear Admiral Russell Harding, Deputy Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Unified Protector.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson) : Good morning – welcome to NATO Headquarters in Brussels. I am very pleased to introduce Deputy Commander of Operation Unified Protector, Rear Admiral James Harding, who joins us from Naples.

NATO has been in full command and control of enforcing United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 for a full week now. During that time we have continued to degrade Gaddafi’s military, as the regime continues to hold cities under siege and  indiscriminately its own people. Our action has been decisive, far-reaching and sustained.

Admiral Harding will give more information on the operational aspects of the mission in a few moments.

Forces from NATO nations and partners in the region are contributing to the Alliance’s operation, demonstrating the breadth of international military commitment to this operation. This includes substantial contributions from Qatar the UAE and Sweden.

NATO Allies met yesterday with our operational partners to discuss the situation in Libya, the dire conditions in  Misrata, and further broadening of international contribution in support of this mission. All confirmed their continued commitment to the military operation to protect the people of Libya.

The North Atlantic Council also met earlier this week with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Jean Ping. They agreed the African Union plays a key role in achieving an early and peaceful solution to the crisis.  And of course we will continue to maintain a close and transparent dialogue with the African Union, as well as other relevant international and regional organisations.

NATO is in command of the military mission, but we know there can be no purely military solution to this crisis. There is unprecedented international unity and resolve for a political solution. The Secretary General will attend next week’s Contact Group meeting in Qatar. NATO will contribute there, as part of the  broader of international effort to discuss the way forward for Libya.

The NATO Secretary General is in constant discussions with international leaders who are playing a key role in the ongoing efforts to support  Libya. He has briefed them on NATO’s led operations and has been clear that NATO stands ready to assist in whatever capacity the international community deems appropriate.

We will face challenges in the days and weeks ahead. The safety and the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan civilian population are at stake, and the need for the international community to act with unity and purpose is clear. For its part NATO is pressing ahead with the robust and vigilant enforcement of UNSCR 1973.

The civilian population of Libya are NATOs foremost concern. NATOs message to the citizens of LIbya is clear. Our mission is to protect you from those who use military force against unarmed civilians. We are steadfast in our resolve to prevent Gadaffi from using his heavy weaponry against you.

Now to provide more detail of what NATO forces have achieved in that spirit of unity, I would now like to hand over to Rear Admiral Harding.

Rear Admiral Russell Harding (Deputy Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Unified Protector) : Thank you Oana,

This is the second update briefing from Naples on Operation Unified Protector, NATO’s effort to protect civilians from violence in Libya.

Since we last spoke, on Wednesday, NATO has continued to exercise control over the no-fly-zone, enforce the arms embargo, and strike forces threatening civilians across Libya.

As I outlined on Wednesday here in Naples, we continue to seal off the coastal approaches to Libya to those who would violate the embargo authorized by the Security Council.

We now have more than 20 ships and several patrol aircraft that are scrutinizing all maritime traffic to ensure only authorized goods get through. our ships will present no obstacle to vital humanitarian aid and will assist humanitarian ships in reaching their destination.

A total of 12 ships have reached Libya in the past few days. four of these ships were humanitarian and eight were involved in evacuations.

in the past 48 hours we have flown over 318 sorties and have struck 23 targets across Libya. This effort maintains the pressure on the Libyan government to withdraw its forces and cease its attacks on communities across Libya.

On Wednesday, we engaged forces in central Libya including an air defence facility near Surt under our mission to protect civilians and civilian population areas. The presence of NATO aircraft and the accuracy of our strikes continue to pressure those who would bring harm to innocent civilians.
In the week since NATO took over command of the mission, the operational tempo has been increasing steadily.

We have flown more than 1500 sorties, almost half of them strike sorties. I would point out that many of these sorties last up to six hours, and if you add up it all up we are flying upwards of 600 hours per day, a very significant effort.

Since we started this effort we have hit targets including T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition dumps in locations including Misrata, Ras Lanuf and Brega.

All these different targets are part of a coherent NATO strategy which reaches across the country and is designed to protect civilians by reducing the ability of the government to wage a ruthless war on its citizens.

Some strikes have destroyed equipment and disrupted miltary formations; others have interdicted lines of communication, cutting off government forces’ access to vital supplies.

Yet others have struck directly at forces which were already attacking civilian areas.

It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in the deaths of a number of Transitional National Council, or, TNC forces who were operating main battle tanks. The incident took place Northeast of Brega where fighting has gone back and forth on the road to Ajdabiya.

The situation in the area is still very fluid, with tanks and other vehicles moving in different directions, making it very difficult to distinguish who may be operating them. In addition, until this time we had not seen the TNC operating tanks.

It is important to stress that our mission is to protect civilians, and we will continue to strike forces that could potentially cause harm to the people of Libya.

I’d like to conclude by addressing an allegation that Colonel Gaddafi made against Operation Unified Protector on Wednesday.

He said NATO aircraft struck the Sarir oil field, and I assure you this is absolutely false. there was no NATO strike in that area. I repeat, no NATO aircraft flew strikes in that area.

What we do know is that government forces have attacked those oil facilities in the Sarir area in an attempt to disrupt the flow of oil to Tobruk. The fire was a direct result of his own aggressive action.