Briefing On NATO Operations in Libya
Permanent Representative to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
MS. FULTON: Hi. Good evening, everybody, and thank you for joining us at such a late hour and on short notice. As you know, it’s been a busy week for news coming out of Libya, and today, the North Atlantic Council met with Operation Unified Protector partners to assess the situation. We are very fortunate to have with us this evening the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder to provide a briefing, a readout of the North Atlantic Council meeting, and give us an idea of what’s going to happen, what the next steps will be.
This is an on-the-record discussion, so without further ado, I’d like to turn it over to Ambassador Daalder.
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Thanks. Thanks again. Thank you all for joining. I know it’s kind of late for you, although it’s a little later here in Brussels. But we did have some news that we wanted to share with you all.
After a good discussion with the 27 other NATO allies and the five partners that are part of the Operation Unified Protector, we agreed today that the operation is coming to a close, that we – and we took the preliminary decision to end the operation on October 31st. That’s exactly seven months after the operation started. The council will meet early next week for a formal decision. And we also decided to wind down our operations while continuing to monitor the situation inside Libya and be ready to act if necessary if civilians are threatened. So we’ll move to an over-watch role over Libya to make sure that the situation remains moving forward in a positive direction, that there are no threats to civilians or attacks on civilians.
In many ways, this is a quite historic moment for NATO. It’s certainly a historic moment for the Libyan people, who have fought valiantly over the past nine months. NATO provided critical support to that effort to make sure that when it could, it could use air power to attack Qadhafi’s forces that were attacking civilians. And as a result of that effort and particularly as a result of the efforts of the Libyan people, the future is now firmly in the hands of all of the people of Libya.
NATO played a critical role in that effort, as I said, and the United States played an absolutely vital role in the NATO effort. As you will recall, back last March when we led the effort to get a UN Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force, it was the U.S. that led the effort to take out the air defense system of the Libyans and to – of the Libyan air force to make sure that we could establish a no-fly zone and provide the air protection against civilians that were being attacked.
As soon as that was done, we led the effort in NATO to make sure that NATO would take command and control of the operation, which happened on the 31st of March of this year, and made sure that the allies were sharing in the burden, both in terms of the strike missions but also in terms of enforcing the arms embargo and in terms of enforcing the no-fly zone, that they would provide the – most of the capabilities.
We were able to do that because the U.S. provided its unique capabilities – in particular, aerial refueling, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as search-and-rescue capabilities and leading efforts in the command and control system within NATO. That allowed the French and the UK and the Italians and the Belgians and the Danes and Norwegians and partners like Sweden and the UAE and Qatar to engage in military operations and to bring about the changes on the ground that we have seen over the last few months that have been accelerating over the last few months.
And now that Libya is truly in the hands of the Libyan people, with the expectation this weekend of the declaration of the liberation of Libya, it is time for NATO to end the operation and to be completed by October 31st.
So all in all, a great success for the people of Libya, a great success for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and a great success for the United States, which made these efforts possible.
I think at that point, it may be good to turn it over for questions.
MS. FULTON: Okay, fantastic. Operator, please, let’s open it up.
OPERATOR: Thank you. If you would like an open line, please unmute your phone, press *1, and record your name and affiliation.
Ilhan Tanir with Vatan Daily, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Ambassador, for your insightful remarks. I have quick two questions. One is, if I am not mistaken, you stated that 31st of October is the end of the NATO mission. After that point, how you are going to oversee the situation that you described if there is civilian attacks? You are going to confront these attacks?
And my two – second question is: Many argue in the past there’s a roadmap from Libya operation for future operations. My question is: Since things are going very badly in Syria, do you think there are lessons for us to take from Libya operation going forward for Syria? Thanks so much.
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I appreciate both of your questions. With respect to what would happen after the NATO operation ends on – which we expect to end on the 31st of October, part of the assessment that our military commanders have made and we are making in the North Atlantic Council, which will ultimately make the decision, is the degree to which the Libyan authorities are now capable of providing the protection to civilians. And it is our view that civilians can now be protected by the NTC, the National Transition Council, and soon the governing authorities in Libya. And there is no requirement anymore for NATO aircraft to provide that capability. There isn’t an organized loyalist opposition anymore that is capable of massing forces in big quantities and threatening civilians. And to the extent there are still threats, folks who can threaten civilians, the NTC and Libyan authorities will be able to take care of that. So that’s our judgment, and that’s the reason why we moved toward – to ending – winding down the operation and ending it by the end of the month.
With regard to what the Libya operation may mean for the future and whether it’s a model, each case, of course, is unique. There were very unique circumstances with respect to the Libya case. NATO early on made very clear that in order for NATO to involve itself in this operation, there needed to be a demonstrable need for military action, strong regional support, as well as a sound legal basis. And those three criteria came together in late March when the Arab League decided that it was necessary, in their view, to establish a no-fly zone and requested the UN Security Council to provide a mandate for such action. And of course, the kind of threats that were being – and attacks that were being waged by Qadhafi’s forces against the civilians in Libya, in Tripoli and the threat that was being posed in Benghazi, showed there was a demonstrable need.
In the case of Syria, there clearly is attacks by government forces on civilians. But it’s also clear that the opposition forces as well as the Arab League do not think it is a good idea for outsiders to intervene and they are strongly against that. Nor is it clear that intervention on the outside would have the desirable effect.
So each case is unique. In the case of Syria, the situation needs to be resolved by the government ceasing its attacks on civilians. And the government, in fact, has lost its legitimacy and now needs to step aside. Military force is not the answer in all circumstances and it’s probably not the answer in this circumstance.
QUESTION: I understand, sir. I have a very quick follow-up. There are some serious allegations that Syrian regime behind the latest PKK terrorist attacks in southeastern of Turkey, and now Turkey sent some 10,000 troops, according to some news reports. Do you think if these allegations are proved to be true, would this be one of the members of the NATO is being attacked by another country? Would it be everything – can this (inaudible) within this framework?
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: I’m not familiar with the information. I just haven’t been – been focused too much in the last few days on what’s happening in Libya, and I’d just rather not comment on hypotheticals. Turkey, of course, is a strong and valuable member of the NATO alliance, and we are committed to the security of Turkey.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. FULTON: Okay, thanks. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Viola Gienger with Bloomberg News, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador Daalder. Thank you for doing the call even at this late hour your time. I’m not totally clear on the timeframe that you laid out. I know that the there’s a preliminary decision to end the operation on October 31st, but you also talked about winding down in the and over-watch. Is the winding down between now and October 31st? Is that what you mean? Or – and what period of time are you talking about in terms of the over-watch, and exactly what would that involve?
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Sure, let me clarify it. Thanks for the question. I appreciate it.
The decision today was a preliminary decision that we will end the operation completely on the 31st of October. We will have a formal decision early next week. In the meantime, so as of today until the end of the operation, which we expect to be on the 31st of October, we will be winding down the operation. We will be doing much less on the maritime forces. There’s not much we can do on the arms embargo enforcement. The no-fly zone doesn’t need to be enforced anymore. And we will continue to monitor the situation and be ready to act, if necessary, if there are threats to civilians in this – in what we call this over-watch period, these 10 days between today and the end of October 31st.
And then, if confirmed next week that October 31st is indeed the end date, at that point the operation would cease to exist. The headquarters will be taken down, the forces that are now under NATO command would revert to national command, and the operation would be ended.
Does that clarify it?
QUESTION: Thank you. Yes, absolutely. Yes. Thank you very much.
MS. FULTON: Okay, thanks. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Nadia Bilbassy with MBC Television, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador, the authorization by the UN Security Council Resolution 17 – 1973 to operate in Libya, does that mean if you talk about protecting civilians after October 31st, does that mean that NATO has to go back to the UN to require another resolution? Or you can get permission from the NTC itself and basically you can operate after that? Or altogether, you won’t be able to operate after that date legally?
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: In terms of the legal basis, as you rightly mentioned, Nadia, 1973 provided the legal basis for the protection of civilians. That legal basis remains in effect, and in fact, it was reaffirmed in UN Security Council Resolution 2009, which reaffirmed that the protection of civilians was still mandated, that the UN Security Council would, of course, review that mandate as necessary. And that may happen in due course. But the mandate remains whether or not NATO fulfills that mandate. So that’s the first legal basis. Unless the Security Council actually ends the mandate, which it hasn’t done, the mandate remains.
If it does end the mandate, Libya as an independent country can ask for assistance from the international community if that’s desirable by the government. And that is for – a decision for it to make. Again, whether it would or wouldn’t would very much depend on the circumstances. What NATO has decided is that it believes that the mandate, the legal mandate under 1973, has now been fulfilled, that civilian protection no longer requires – at least for the – after we end the decision – the mission no longer requires a NATO air power, and that the NTC and the Libyan authorities will themselves be capable of providing protection to their own civilians.
MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you. Operator, next question, please.
OPERATOR: Tejinder Singh with India TV Today. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you for doing this and at this late hour. My first question is: The UN Human Rights Commission is urging for an investigation into the death of Qadhafi. What is U.S. and NATO’s stand on that?
And then the second is that you mentioned the end of operations. What does that exactly mean? All operations come to an end, no NATO monitoring of Libya any more after October 31st? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Thank you for your question. In regard to the second question, once the operation ends, it ends. NATO will no longer have forces under its command and control that are either over the skies of Libya or in the maritime areas of Libya. These forces will revert back to national control and go about doing their business focused on other areas and other missions.
With respect to the developments yesterday, the United States welcomes the TNC’s declared intention to investigate what happened. We believe it needs to be done in a fully transparent manner, and we look forward to that investigation being completed.
QUESTION: And just a follow – a quick follow-up. You say this investigation. Who is going to investigate Qadhafi’s last hours before death?
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: The TNC has already been working to determine the precise cause and circumstances of Qadhafi’s death, and we welcome that. We urge them to do it in an open and transparent manner, and we – just as we continue to urge them to treat prisoners humanely and abide by all international standards of justice and human rights. But it is (inaudible). Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. FULTON: Okay. With that, Operator, Operator, I think we have time for just maybe one more question.
OPERATOR: Cami McCormick with CBS News, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you for taking the call. I was just wondering what your concerns are and what NATO’s concerns are about an armed insurgency, no matter how big or how small, and how you decided that the TNC or the NTC was able to handle the protection of civilians. What was your criteria?
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: Well, what we looked at in the criteria were a number of things. First is the status of Sirte, which was the last major holdout, and we considered the fall of Sirte a key indicator that the TNC would be able to have control over all population centers, which it now has.
The second thing that military commanders examined was the degree to which there were still organized military forces, units with heavy weapons that could threaten or indeed attack civilians. There are no longer organized military units. There are, of course, individuals who may still harbor loyalist feelings and tendencies and be willing and able to engage in violence, but they’re not part of organized military units that possess heavy weapons.
The third thing we looked at was the degree to which Qadhafi or some of his followers still had the command and control over such organized military units. And there was a determination by the military authorities again that not only Qadhafi’s demise made that impossible but that the command and control system itself was no longer functioning, that it was functioning in the end in two blocks in Sirte but not throughout the rest of the country.
And finally, we were looking at the degree to which the NTC could provide for the security of citizens throughout the country. And one of the clear indications came last week when there was, a week ago today, a small uprising of Qadhafi loyalists in Tripoli that was quickly put down by the local authorities, suggesting therefore that the NTC was capable of providing the kind of security for its own people that was necessary.
So it was a combination of those factors that we’re examining, and the military commanders this morning reached a conclusion that all of that added up to a situation in which NATO was no longer needed to fulfill the mandate to protect civilians.
In the meantime, we all agreed that there needed to be a short period, 10 days, in which we would monitor the situation, make sure that our judgment indeed of the military commanders remains correct. That’s the over-watch period that we have now entered into. And we believe that the circumstances on the ground will warrant and affirm the judgment of the military commanders, and that therefore on October 31st we can end the operation altogether.
MS. FULTON: Okay. With that, Ambassador Daalder, I just want to say thank you so much for your time. This has been extremely useful. We’d like to thank everybody again for joining us. We will have a transcript of this out as soon as we can. But this concludes the call. Thank you, very much, everybody, for joining.
AMBASSADOR DAALDER: My pleasure.