Six Norwegian fighter jets were taking off from their air bases in central and northern Norway on Monday, bound for action in Libya. They’ll be accompanied by 120 military personnel, under orders that, according to one top defense analyst, point up Norway’s high level of support for the UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians.
Analyst John Berg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that by sending six F16 jets to take part in armed military action in Libya, the government is sending fully a fifth of its total fleet out of the country.
Norway only has 30 F16 jets currently available, estimates Berg, who has worked for Jane’s Defence Weekly for 25 years. “By sending six of them, the Norwegian government is showing that they really are backing up the UN resolution,” Berg told DN.
It remained unclear Monday exactly how the Norwegian jets will be deployed. Defense Minister Grete Faremo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday that they are prepared for use in combat, noting that “this is an armed international operation.”
Faremo was concerned by reports over the weekend that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was using human shields against the UN-backed allied forces sent to Libya to create a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Gadhafi’s attacks on his own people.
“It’s important to stress that the goal of the UN resolution is to protect civilians,” Faremo told Aftenposten.no. “Norway must therefore be sure we have influence over the decision processes (behind military assaults) and that we have control over the use of military force by our own troops.”
Faremo added that “we must not have the illusion that this will be a simple operation. The situation is highly unclear.” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre repeatedly claimed that “Norway isn’t at war with Libya,” but said that failing to go along with the UN resolution to act, or to do nothing while Gadhafi attacks his own citizens, would have been worse. “Therefore Norway wants to take its share of responsibility,” Støre told NRK.
Oslo-based journalist held in Libya
Norwegian officials were also joining in intense diplomatic negotiations for the release of an Oslo-based journalist and cameraman for Al Jazeera. Ammar Al-Hamdan was arrested by Libyan security forces March 7, along with three other foreign correspondents, and is believed to remain in detention by Gadhafi’s regime. There’s been no contact from him, though, and fears were rising the journalists would be used as hostages.
The leader of Al Jazeera’s office in Oslo, Samir Shatara, told Norwegian media over the weekend that he’s afraid Gadhafi will use Al-Hamdan as a human shield. Shatara told NRK that Gadhafi “hates” Al Jazeera.
Al-Hamdan, based in Oslo, was on assignment in Libya for both Al Jazeera and Norwegian magazine Ny Tid. The magazine’s editor, Dag Herbjørnsrud, said it was difficult to get information on the status or safety of Al-Hamdan. Officials at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry called the situation “serious” but declined to comment on efforts to secure the journalists’ release.