Norway backs extended Libyan operation

The Norwegian government supports NATO’s decision to extend its military intervention in Libya by another three months. It’s unclear, however, whether Norway can continue its fighter jet contribution, and now the country may be asked to supply ground troops instead.

It remains unclear whether Norway will continue its active bombing of Libyan targets. PHOTO: Lars Magne Hovtun/Forsvaret

Both Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Defense Minister Grete Faremo said it was too early to say what type of contribution Norway can make during the next three-month period of the NATO-led military operation. At this point, Norway’s six F-16 fighter jets remain committed to bombing raids over Libya only until June 24.

The Norwegian fighter jets have been among the most active in bombing Libyan targets, but questions have been raised over whether the Norwegian Air Force has the personnel and equipment capacity to maintain the current high tempo of military assault.

Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the peace research institute PRIO in Oslo, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that it’s highly probable Norway will be asked to send ground troops into Libya. Their UN-mandated mission would presumably be the same, to protect civilians from the regime of Libyan Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

“Norway has been among the most prominent participants in the alliance that has carried out air attacks the past few months,” Harpviken told NRK. “That means the expectations that Norway will participate in an extended mission are high.”

Vegard Valter Hansen of foreign policy institute NUPI agrees. “Norway is among the countries with the most spacious defense budgets in Europe, at the same time as we stress that we follow up our international obligations in relation to the UN and NATO,” Valter Hansen told NRK. “That makes it difficult not to follow up.”

They think it’s most likely NATO will ask for Norwegian special forces to go into Libya. The special forces could give the air forces important information on where they should bomb, and help train and give advice to the Libyan opposition forces, Valter Hansen said.

Defense Minister Faremo declined to comment on what she called “a hypothetical situation” even though Norway supports extending the Libyan operation. She said, however, that the deployment of any ground forces has not been a theme “either in NATO or here at home, so as I see it now, it’s not very probable.”

Pilot: ‘Doing the right thing’
Newspaper Aftenposten was finally allowed to interview some of Norway’s fighter jet pilots, when the military eased its control of information on the Libyan operation following complaints it was not open enough with details of bombing activity and targets. One pilot currently based on Crete said his everyday work “wasn’t so different” from training mission back home.

“We get briefed on what will happen, everything from weather and wind and what type of targets we have,” he wrote in an e-mail to Aftenposten. “What’s different, though, is that we’re not training. We’re actually dropping bombs and taking lives. The days are also more intense.”

He said he and his fellow pilots could be extremely goal-oriented, without the “disturbances” that can take away focus from the mission at hand.

“Our impression is that we’re doing the job we shall do, that is to protect civilians,” he wrote. “You can have some thoughts about that, but I’m convinced that I’m doing the right thing.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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