NATO Briefing on Libya, 3 May 2011

NAPLES—(ENEWSPF)—3 May 2011.  Participating in today’s NATO Briefing are NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu, and Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri, Commander Maritime Forces for Operation Unified Protector.

Good afternoon, and welcome to NATO headquarters. I am joined today by Vice-Admiral Rinaldo Veri, the commander of maritime forces for Operation Unified Protector, who will fully brief you on the military aspects actions this weekend.

In the past few days NATO airstrikes have targeted Qadhafi forces across the country intent on launching attacks against civilians and civilian centres. Our strikes have destroyed targets across the country, but especially near Zintan and Yafran, where 17 ammunition stores were destroyed along with armoured personnel carriers and other armoured vehicles.

In Tripoli NATO aircraft struck command and control buildings responsible for directing attacks against civilians. You have all seen reports by Libyan television of the death of Saif al-Arab Qadafi. We cannot independently confirm these reports.  Obviously we regret any loss of innocent life in this conflict.  NATO is not targeting specific individuals but genuine military targets, with care and precision  and will continue to do so. We have warned all civilians  to stay away from military sites and equipment – and I would like to repeat that advice today.

This is a complex campaign, operating across the whole of Libya, dedicated to steadily degrading the ability the Qadhafi regime to attack its own people. The actions of NATO forces have saved lives, and will continue to do so. There is no doubt that, were it not for NATO’s precision bombing of tanks, rocket-launchers and ammunition depots then pro-Qadhafi’s forces would have killed and wounded thousands more.

NATO operations are part of the international effort to end attacks on civilians in Libya. This week will see important work in the international community to reach that goal.

We have condemned Qadhafi’s aggressive statement threatening Italy after the nation intensified its contribution to our mission to protect civilians. We also strongly condemn the attacks against the United Nations office and the mission of several NATO Allies in Tripoli.  The regime has a clear duty to protect all diplomatic missions — allowing these attacks to take place is yet another breach of Qadhafi’s international obligations.

We have always been clear that there must be a political solution in Libya. The  NATO Secretary General will pursue this urgent international work at the meeting of the Contact Group in Rome this Thursday. He will brief the Contact Group on operations so far.
This meeting will progress on the goals decided at the Berlin Ministerial that set out the end state for this conflict; that all attacks and threats of attack against civilians must end; the regime must withdraw all forces to bases; and full humanitarian access is guaranteed to all the people in Libya in need of assistance.

NATO will maintain the military pressure for as long as it takes until those goals are achieved and the Libyan people have the freedom to determine their own future.

Now I hand over to Vice Admiral Veri, commander of maritime forces for Operation Unified Protector.

Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri (Commander Maritime Forces for Operation Unified Protector) : Good Afternoon, I am Vice Admiral Rinaldo Veri Commander of the Maritime Component Headquarters located here in Naples. I am responsible for all aspects of Unified Protectorin the maritime environment.

My goal today is to provide you with a situation update for NATO operations in Libya and also to answer questions more specifically related to the maritime operations that I command.

First some operational background. NATO warships and aircraft have been patrolling the maritime approaches to Libya since the 23rd of March.

Their mission is to reduce the flow of arms and related material as well as mercenaries to and from Libya. These actions are in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

This is part of NATO’s contribution to the broad international effort to protect civilians in Libya from the violence committed by the Qadhafi regime’s armed forces.

A total of 12 nations have contributed assets to the Maritime Embargo and up to 17 warships and 2 Submarines have operated under NATO command at any one time.

Those ships have been busy with two activities; the first is to enforce the embargo, and the second is to take action to ensure NATO helps protect innocent civilians from the threat of attack. And while our simple presence is a powerful deterrent, there are cases where we must take action.

Each case is considered separately. NATO sends out specific Notice to Mariners explaining to merchant shipping how they should behave to pass through the various layers of the embargo.

If a ship chooses not to comply or acts suspiciously, or if there is reason to believe it is carrying cargo that might be used in the ongoing violence against innocent civilians, it will be hailed and boarded.

So far, the Maritime component has conducted more than 750 hailings of ships in the embargo area and we have boarded 26. In most cases, we have determined that all is in order and the vessels have been allowed to proceed, but we have turned away 5 ships.

Overall I strongly believe the Maritime Embargo has contributed significantly to help reduce theviolence against the civilian population of Libya. But I do want to mention a recent and very despicable act by Qadhafi forces.

Last Friday, Maritime Forces under my Command detected 4 fast moving small craft heading toward the approaches to Misrata harbor. Whilst in pursuit of these vessels, a mine-like object was observed in the water, which had clearly come from one of these small craft.

Investigations by those Maritime Forces on the scene later confirmed the presence of 3 mines.

They were small moored-mines designed to detonate on contact with a ship. Unfortunately, one of the mines had become detached from its mooring and was drifting like a floating mine.

It is clear to me that our forces had disrupted an attempt by pro-Qadhafi forces to lay mines in the approaches to Misrata, thus directly attempting to halt the flow of humanitarian aid to the innocent people of Libya.

The two moored mines were destroyed Saturday and Maritime Forces are now actively engaged in countering the mine threat to the port of Misrata. NATO mine counter-measure vessels are establishing a cleared corridor into the Port of Misrata.

My clear aim is to ensure that humanitarian aid can move safely to port.

I urge shipping companies wishing to approach Libya to continue to liaise with the NATO Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping Centre (NCAGS) organization.

Meanwhile, NATO Air assets have continued precision strikes against Qadhafi regime military installations, including command and control nodes, lines of communication, ammunition storages and various armoured vehicles.

We have also attacked missile launchers and transport vehicles. All these targets have been directly linked to attacks or threats of attack against civilians and populated centres.

Since the beginning of the NATO operation, there have been over 4800 sorties, which includes over 1900 strike sorties. By means of our airstrikes, we have damaged or destroyed many targets including command and control centres, equipment and a large number of ammunition storage facilities. And just last night we destroyed three self-propelled artillery pieces that were shelling Misrata.

Just to be clear: We do not target individuals. All NATO targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Qadhafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas.