General Lorimer was speaking as he briefed the media earlier this afternoon on Operation ELLAMY, the name for the United Kingdom’s military support to United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. He was joined by Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn, Air Officer Commanding No 2 Group, and by Captain Karl Evans, Naval Staff Operations.
General Lorimer said that air strikes on Saturday 19 March by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to enforce a no-fly zone succeeded in stopping the artillery assault on Benghazi.
He said that on that day Colonel Gaddafi’s forces launched an attack on Benghazi, shelling residential suburbs. Eyewitnesses on the ground reported seeing government tanks inside the city. Numerous civilian casualties, including children, the elderly and women have been reported.
That evening, about 200 pro-Gaddafi Revolutionary Committee forces were said to be targeting anti-Gaddafi forces in the streets of the city.
Opposition sources are now saying that Colonel Gaddafi is withdrawing his troops from Benghazi and increasing attacks elsewhere in the country.
Over the weekend, in Misurata, Colonel Gaddafi’s forces launched artillery and tank bombardments, causing dozens of injuries and damage to electricity and water supplies. Fighting continued on 20 March with reports that pro-Gaddafi forces had entered the city with tanks, and that naval vessels in the port were preventing aid from landing.
Although the Libyan authorities again claimed a ceasefire yesterday, Sunday 20 March, there has been no evidence to suggest that there has been any change in the stance of the Libyan military.
General Lorimer pointed out that Prime Minister David Cameron said Colonel Gaddafi would continue to be judged by his actions. The current assessment is that he is in breach of his obligations, so the coalition will continue to enforce the resolution.
Speaking about the UK attack on Libyan defence assets last night, Sunday 20 March, General Lorimer said:
The plan was to fire Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from our submarine, and Storm Shadows from our Tornado GR4s last night. Our targets formed part of the command and control systems of the Libyan military, including their air defence systems.
The initial attack came from one of our Trafalgar Class submarines [operating in the Mediterranean] firing Tomahawks; these were launched and successfully attacked the intended targets. Despite Libyan reports and claims to the contrary we are not aware of any civilian casualties.
Then later last night, the plan was to attack other targets, with Storm Shadows, a mission undertaken by Tornados flying from RAF Marham - a return journey of some 3,000 miles [4,800km].
However, after the Tornados had taken off, we learned that there were civilians in the area. We therefore took the decision to call off the attack and the Tornado aircraft returned to base with all their missiles.
Now this clearly demonstrates that we take all measures possible to reduce the chances of harming innocent civilians. And despite what you might see from the Libyan authorities, we have no evidence to suggest that we have caused innocent civilian casualties.
AVM Osborn said that the mission, which was the first of its kind to launch from the UK since 1945, showed the UK aircrews’ exceptional skill and judgement under pressure.
General Lorimer continued:
We now have Typhoon aircraft based at the Italian Air Force base Gioia del Colle. They arrived there yesterday afternoon, and these aircraft are from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Leuchars in Fife.
They will operate from Gioia del Colle in southern Italy as part of the coalition’s enforcement of the no-fly zone. This group of aircraft and their support have formed up as 906 Expeditionary Air Wing and they will be supported by 907 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
907 Wing comprises VC10, Nimrod R1 and Sentinel aircraft providing air-to-air refuelling and reconnaissance capabilities. C-17 and C-130 aircraft have also been used to assist in the build up of our deployed forces.
Looking ahead, we expect to deploy Tornado aircraft to Gioia del Colle very soon.
AVM Osborn said that from today, Monday 21 March, operations would start to switch to a forward presence and an even more substantive commitment to the area of operations:
Operations in support of UNSCR 1973 will depend on three key activities; intelligence and situational awareness, control of the air, and attack in accordance with UNSCR 1973,” he said.
Captain Karl Evans, a submarine commanding officer who has served in a Trafalgar Class submarine similar to the one currently involved in these operations, said:
There are three naval units of significance in support of the mission; the Type 23 frigate HMS Westminster, Type 22 frigate HMS Cumberland, and the Trafalgar Class submarine [T-Boat].
The T-Boat was involved last night, for a second night, in a missile strike and we are fully prepared to sustain that capability for as long as it is required. For as long as that submarine is there we have the ability to reach targets within 1,000 miles [1,600km], and to deliver with precision 1,000-pound [454kg] munitions.
The role of the surface ships, having played their part in evacuating people from Libya, will now be in assisting in providing situational awareness to the allied forces:
It’s also true to say that the UNSC resolution requires us to protect the Libyans from Gaddafi’s forces in all environments,” said Captain Evans. “We have previously seen Libyan surface ships used to shell shore positions. That’s something that’s now stopped. Our ships and their capabilities may well be a factor in why that’s stopped.
Once the NATO planning process is complete, the maritime forces could contribute to ensuring the arms embargo is upheld, said General Lorimer:
Indeed, NATO navies and air forces are experienced in maritime security operations in the Mediterranean, for example through Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR. Our Trafalgar Class submarine remains on alert in the operating area.
Those ships and aircraft in the region are part of a layered defence against the illegal flow of weapons into Libya; the key to the embargo’s success will be the international community coming together to prevent the illicit flow of arms, weapons and mercenaries.
Due to operational security, the General did not detail the degree of success against specific targets:
But our position remains as it was yesterday,” he said. “We are satisfied that our attacks, and those of our partners, have been highly effective in degrading the Libyan air defence and command and control capability, as part of our setting the conditions to enforce the no-fly zone as required under UNSCR 1973,” he said.
See Related Links for the full text of General Lorimer’s briefing.