Norway was preparing to send six fighter jets and support personnel to join the UN-sanctioned assault against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was in Paris on Saturday to meet with leaders of the European-, Arab- and North American military operation, and offer Norway’s support.
Defense Minister Grete Faremo had already indicated on Friday that Norway would be most likely to contribute fighter jets and transport flight assistance to the assault. It began Saturday afternoon with French fighter jets attacking targets in Libya.
Stoltenberg followed up Faremo’s proposals at the meeting in Paris, and Norwegian military officials told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that six F16s and military personnel were being sent to a preliminary base in Sicily.
Inspector General Finn Kristian Hannestad of the Norwegian Air Force told NRK that officers would be in place by Sunday, with around 100 troops to be sent to join the operation within the next five to 10 days. Their role will be determined by how the UN effort will be led, either through NATO or as a UN-backed international coalition. Equipment and personnel will be sent from Norwegian military bases at Bodø and Ørland, with Bodø given responsibility to plan for and mount the force.
Stoltenberg told news bureau NTB that “it was time to act” against Gadhafi. The Libyan dictator “has had many opportunities to respect the UN’s call for a ceasefire (against Gadhafi’s own attacks on Libyan civilians and his opponents) and he hasn’t followed up. Therefore it’s now time to launch a military action,” Stoltenberg said.
Rare unity in Parliament, widespread support for military action
Stoltenberg has the broadest possible political support for Norway’s involvement within the Norwegian Parliament. Politicians from both ends of the political spectrum have expressed full cooperation with the Norwegian government’s announcement on Friday that it would back and contribute to the UN Security Council resolution to not only impose a no-fly zone over Libya but also use “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians from their own dictator.
The support in Parliament (Stortinget) is an example of rare unity between the government and the opposition parties, and also among the opposition parties themselves. From the Socialist Left party to the Progress Party on the far right of Norwegian politics, their spokespersons were unanimous.
“We must be willing to use force to stop Gadhafi’s attack on his own people,” Bård Vegar Solhjell of the Socialist Left told newspaper Aftenposten. Peter N Myhre of the Progress Party was, for once, in full agreement, saying it was “only right” for Norway to join its allies in the battle against Gadhafi.
Ine Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party also agreed. “For the Conservatives, it’s critical that the international community contribute towards putting a stop to Gadhafi’s attacks. A dictator who tries to stop an uprising by bombing his own people has no legitimacy.” Even Dagfinn Høybråten of the Christian Democrats joined the chorus, saying Norway’s participation had his party’s full support as well.
Stoltenberg was invited to join the meeting of top international leaders in Paris on Saturday, even though Norway is not a member of the European Union. The meeting was led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other leaders from countries in the EU, the Middle East and Africa.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has resisted an attack on Libya but Germany did not veto the UN resolution on Thursday and she was present at the summit in Paris on Saturday. The earlier lack of active German support illustrated a split within the EU and NATO. Indications on Saturday were that France, Great Britain and Arab supporters would lead the charge, with support from the US, Canada and other countries including Norway.