News story

Good progress seen in Libya operations

Speaking to members of the press at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, Mr Herbert said that, although challenges remain in…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speaking to members of the press at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, Mr Herbert said that, although challenges remain in Libya, “we are more convinced than ever that what we are doing is necessary, legal and right,” and that the action of the coalition to date has saved countless lives.

The momentum has shifted irrevocably against Gaddafi and those around him,” he added, “and I will be very clear why their time is running out: Gaddafi has been stripped of his legitimacy. There is no future for Libya with him in power.

On military action, Maj Gen Pope said that, after three months of conflict, the situation on the ground between regime forces and the opposition is increasingly well-defined:

Moment by moment change may be difficult to see, but change there is,” he said.

Maj Gen Pope said that, while Colonel Gadaffi’s troops remain a real danger to civilians, that they are operating with ever-decreasing mobility, and struggling to show operational initiative:

We have witnessed various attempts by the regime to push back around Misurata but none so far have raised significant fears that the close siege of the city might be resumed.

In some areas, the front line now lies up to 40km from Misurata itself,” he continued. “Good progress has been made by NATO in writing down key regime facilities, both in Tripoli and elsewhere across the country.

Our intelligence on the security apparatus is improving all the time. On 16 May, for example, we knew of two major intelligence agencies located on Al Jamara Street, and we bombed them. By the 16 June, we were able to pin down a third secret police headquarters on the same street, and we were able to bomb that as well.

Maj Gen Pope said that, in total, NATO has now flown some 12,000 sorties; around 5,000 of these were attack missions, hitting more than 2,400 regime targets accurately.

Acknowledging the civilian casualties caused by a NATO weapon in the last week, Maj Gen Pope said that this was a rare case of technical failure.

I want to emphasise, as the NATO Secretary General has emphasised, any civilian casualty is deeply regrettable,” he added.

On the lengths to which NATO forces go to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, Maj Gen Pope said that the fact that such incidents are so rare, in such an intense air campaign, is testimony to the exceptional care that is taken in planning every mission:

Targets are selected with the utmost care,” he explained, “Intelligence is checked and re-checked to ensure we know what we are attempting to hit.

Bombing runs are planned in such a way that, even if a weapon fails to operate properly, the chances of it going seriously astray are minimised. Precision guided weapons are used. On occasion, laser-guided bombs have been dragged away in the last few seconds of flight to explode in empty ground when a pilot has observed possible civilians in the area. RAF aircraft have done that twice in the last ten days.

The bottom line is, we go to extraordinary lengths, and rightly so, to avoid injury to innocent people.

On the UK contribution to the NATO mission, the General said that Typhoon aircraft alone have flown the equivalent of 24 times around the world in this operation so far, but emphasised the truly international and collaborative nature of the action:

British and French attack helicopters have provided another means of intensifying the military effort. Tactically operated missions are closely dovetailed in with the full range of NATO operations.

When the British and French [Apache] helicopters flew their first mission, it is important to recognise that there were more than 20 fixed-wing aircraft, from seven different countries, in the air at that moment.

Before an Apache takes off, therefore, NATO reconnaissance aircraft provide intelligence which enables us, both to select targets against which the Apaches might best be used, and also to conduct an assessment of potential surface-to-air missile threat. During the flight, NATO jets are tasked by commanders to provide overwatch, and potentially launch strikes against targets in the area to complement the helicopter strikes.

Maj Gen Pope added that Royal Navy vessels have also played a key role in NATO’s enforcement of the maritime embargo, which has seen over 1,400 shipping movements investigated, 109 boardings, and eight vessels turned away from Libyan ports:

In total RAF, Royal Navy and Army Air Corps operations have so far damaged or destroyed over 500 regime targets, including some 240 tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and artillery rocket systems, and over 150 infrastructure targets, including bunkers and ammunition stores,” he said.

UNSCR [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1973 is being enforced effectively. We continue to save countless civilian lives, and, as the Chief of the Defence Staff has made clear, we will sustain this effort for as long as is needed. The wider coalition of NATO and other partners of 33 countries has shown its resolve by extending the mandate for Operation Unified Protector for another 90 days.

Published 24 June 2011