Defense Minister Grete Faremo told the Norwegian Parliament on Monday that if NATO continues its UN-backed military intervention in Libya beyond its initial three-month commitment period, Norway’s involvement would be “different and less comprehensive” than its current contribution.
Norway was quick to support the UN Security Council’s decision in March to try to protect Libyan civilians by providing air cover for forces opposing Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Norway sent six F-16 fighter jets and support personnel to join the assault, initially putting them under US command on March 23 until NATO took over the operation.
Since then, the Norwegian jets have been involved in numerous bombing raids, also reportedly in recent attacks on Gadhafi’s headquarters. Faremo confirmed on Monday that the Norwegian jets have participated in 315 attacks on Libyan targets and have dropped 289 bombs.
The three-month NATO operation is due to expire on June 24, though, and now Faremo seems keen to scale it down if not pull out Norway’s jets entirely. “There is no military solution to the situation in Libya,” she said. “It must be solved politically.”
She said she expects that NATO’s operation will eventually enter a new phase where the need for fighter jets in air-to-ground attacks will be lower than it is today. “The government will get back to the Parliament with further plans for the Norwegian contribution well before the expiration of the three-month period,” she said.
Faremo, who hails from the Labour Party, claimed there was “good and close dialogue” between Norwegian authorities and NATO officials but she admitted to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she hadn’t given any clear signals to NATO of the intended reduction.
Norway’s political parties, both those in the government coalition and in opposition, have generally supported the military contribution to the Libyan operation, but some critical members of the Socialist Left party (SV) have expressed new reservations, as recently as this past weekend. Asked whether the intention to reduce or even withdraw Norway’s fighter jets was an attempt to appease her government partner SV, Faremo stressed that the coalition parties still support the overall operation but that it was costly and likely to take on a new form anyway.
She added that Norway had all reason to be proud of its performance in the Libyan operation. Costs are estimated to have amounted to NOK 261 million (about USD 50 million) so far.