Libya Operations Remain Fluid, NATO Official Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2011 — NATO’s deci­sion to extend the alliance’s mis­sion in Libya shows its work there is not yet done, a NATO spokes­woman said today.

NATO’s North Atlantic Coun­cil extend­ed Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor by 90 days dur­ing a meet­ing in New York last week that coin­cid­ed with a meet­ing of the U.N. Gen­er­al Assem­bly.

“In New York, the mes­sage was clear: a new day is dawn­ing for Libya, and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is ral­ly­ing around the new Libya,” Oana Lunges­cu told reporters dur­ing a brief­ing at the alliance’s head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

Lunges­cu reit­er­at­ed NATO’s com­mit­ment to the Libyan peo­ple.

“Our job under the man­date of the Unit­ed Nations and in sup­port of the Libyan peo­ple is not yet done,” she said. “The sit­u­a­tion remains flu­id. And while threats per­sist, NATO will con­tin­ue to pro­tect civil­ians togeth­er with our part­ners, under the man­date con­firmed by the recent Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2009.”

Lunges­cu also reit­er­at­ed NATO’s inten­tion to con­tin­ue its work while main­tain­ing over­sight of when to end its mis­sion. “The mis­sion will con­tin­ue as long as it is nec­es­sary, but end as soon as pos­si­ble,” she said. “We also decid­ed to keep the sit­u­a­tion under reg­u­lar review, and that means that the North Atlantic Coun­cil can ter­mi­nate the oper­a­tion at any time and as soon as pos­si­ble, in coor­di­na­tion with the Unit­ed Nations and the will and aspi­ra­tions of the Libyan peo­ple.”

Col. Roland Lavoie of the Cana­di­an air force, mil­i­tary spokesman for Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor, dis­cussed oper­a­tions against remain­ing forces in the coun­try loy­al to Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

“Recent devel­op­ments in Surt and Bani Walid have been our main area of atten­tion over the last few days,” he said. “Indeed, it’s clear that remain­ing Gad­hafi forces refuse to rec­og­nize their defeat and that the for­mer regime has lost both legit­i­ma­cy and pub­lic sup­port.

“As a last resort,” he con­tin­ued, “they are hid­ing in urban areas, from where they attempt to con­trol the sur­round­ing pop­u­la­tion and use civil­ians as shields against attempts [by forces of Libya’s tran­si­tion­al gov­ern­ment] to dis­lodge them.”

Lavoie cit­ed signs of the “wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tion” in Surt and Bani Walid. “Avail­abil­i­ty of drink­ing water, food resup­ply, elec­tric­i­ty, med­i­cine and fuel is severe­ly imped­ed, which puts an enor­mous pres­sure on the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion,” he said.

“Numer­ous check­points and sur­round­ing sniper posi­tions are being used to pre­vent fam­i­lies from mov­ing to safer loca­tions,” Lavoie added, “and Gad­hafi forces, mer­ce­nar­ies and Gad­hafi sup­port­ers roam the streets tak­ing hostages and con­duct­ing exe­cu­tions.”

Lavoie also said Gad­hafi forces are turn­ing away neu­tral human­i­tar­i­an aid, “which is appalling and sense­less, as this gives Gad­hafi forces no mil­i­tary advan­tage at all.”

The mil­i­tary spokesman said Nation­al Tran­si­tion­al Coun­cil forces have seen some suc­cess in recent days.

“On a more pos­i­tive note, the NTC forces have opened a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the north­west coastal area last week­end, which has allowed thou­sands to escape from that route,” he said. “This life-sav­ing oper­a­tion result­ed in NTC casu­al­ties, but allowed many to escape a very tough, if not to say dire, sit­u­a­tion.”

Lavoie also said tran­si­tion­al gov­ern­ment forces have gained con­trol of Libya’s remain­ing stock­pile of chem­i­cal and nuclear-relat­ed agents.

“We are con­fi­dent that allies in inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions that are in con­tact with the NTC are work­ing to ensure that Libya’s gov­ern­ing author­i­ties can take full con­trol of any pro­lif­er­a­tion sen­si­tive mate­r­i­al that is left and that they start plan­ning for their safe dis­pos­al,” he said.

Lavoie stressed that NATO will con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor ground con­di­tions and safe­guard civil­ians as man­dat­ed by the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion.

“Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor is not over yet,” he said. “We are com­mit­ted to pur­su­ing it to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion of Libya for as long as nec­es­sary, but not any longer.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)