Defense Minister Grete Faremo says it’s “unacceptable” for Norwegian military personnel to take part in private security operations, even when they’re on holiday. It’s becoming more clear, however, that such freelance activity through “informal networks of colleagues” is nothing new. The question is whether Faremo can stop or even control it.
Faremo and her own government colleague, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, met reporters on Monday to give their version of events tied to a bitter custody dispute between a Norwegian mother and a Moroccan father. The dispute led to the controversial transit of the children from Morocco, where they’d been living with their father, back to Norway, where their mother has custody.
She had pleaded for years for help from Norwegian authorities to get the children back to Norway. She finally got it, when the children allegedly ran away from their father, sought refuge at the Norwegian embassy in Rabat and ultimately left Morocco in a sailboat crewed by two officers assigned to Norway’s special forces .
That’s set off a political storm, after newspaper VG reported the Norwegian military officers’ involvement. Both Faremo and Støre claim they had no idea special forces were involved. Faremo now has an internal report on the incident confirming it (see box below), and she’s not happy.
That’s because the report “can give the impression” of an “informal network of colleagues” that’s open to such freelance missions. That in turn suggests that Norwegian soldiers are available for hire, even when they’re still on the official military payroll.
“Even though (the two officers) involved haven’t carried out any actions requiring special military competence, both the Defense Ministry and the military consider it unacceptable that Defense personnel … participate in such actions, even when they occur in their free time,” said Faremo.
She noted that it’s “fundamental” in a military organization that all activity occur in accordance with the line of command and that “no one other than the authorities can make any form of assignment to military employees.”
Faremo noted that Sunde could find “no indication” that the Moroccan operation was cleared by any Norwegian military authorities.
Faremo, however, is left with the challenge of trying to enforce these retningslinjer (guidelines). There are signs of a culture within the military that’s at least tacitly approved such freelancing in the past. NewspaperAftenposten reported on Tuesday that special forces soldiers have participated in private, civilian operations on earlier occasions.
There also have come expressions of support for such operations, from attorneys, private investigators and even some human rights activists. “I have no problem defending the use of commando soldiers in an operation that got the children home to Norway,” the children’s attorney Kim Gerdst told newspaper Dagsavisen.
Faremo said Sunde has said both the guidelines and her official position will nonetheless be clarified within the military, “to avoid similar situations occurring in the future.”
The military’s version of events
According to a report prepared for Defense Minister Grete Faremo by Norwegian military chief Harald Sunde, one of the two officers involved in what’s being called “The Moroccan Affair” was contacted on July 19 by the organizer of the mother’s attempt to get her children out of Morocco.
They were asked to take part in the operation, which involved “several persons” with “common background” in the Norwegian police and military, by sailing a boat from Spain to Morocco and back.
The two officers, said to be “on holiday” at the time, left the same day for Spain, traveling with the mother and a former colleague. They sailed from Spain on July 21, “waited at the quay (in Morocco) until the children arrived,” and sailed with the mother and the children back to Spain on July 23.
They flew from Spain to Norway on July 24 “and the officers continued their holiday.” The two used their own passports and boat certificates, according to Sunde’s report, and no military equipment was involved.