Military defends Libyan operation

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Defense ministry and military officials claim Norway’s involvement in the NATO-led intervention in the Libyan civil war remains important and has been more successful than media reports would indicate. They also claim the military wants to be as open as possible about targets and casualties in Libya.

Defense Chief Harald Sunde is pleased with results in Libya so far, and claims the military wants to be more open about its NATO contribution. PHOTO: Forsvaret

“We believe the results are good, the operation is working,” Roger Ingebrigtsen, state secretary in the defense ministry, told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. “We have protected the civilian population in Libya. But the result won’t be best until the threat is over that (Libyan dictator Moammar) Gadhafi can attack his own people.”

Norway’s Chief of Defense,  General Harald Sunde, also responded to a report in Aftenposten on Thursday that questioned the results so far of the Libyan operation. Aftenposten also had reported that few details are revealed about what Norwegian fighter jet pilots are actually doing in Libya, and that’s prompting criticism.

“NATO has taken out a lot of Libya’s ability and capacity to carry out attacks on its civilian population,” Sunde told Aftenposten via e-mail from the US. “When you destroy command- and control apparatus, bomb ammunitions storage and fueling facilities, that contributes to, for example, tanks becoming unusable.”

Sunde said that NATO’s process of selecting targets is detailed, with good photos from sensors and good analyses providing a high degree of precision. The bombing carried out so far has “locked up” Gadhafi’s forces so that they can’t maneuver. That has led, however, to them “hiding behind civilians,” Sunde said.

He claimed Gadhafi’s naval force has been destroyed, his air force blocked and his army weakened. “But the threat against civilians isn’t removed,” Sunde said. “Therefore the operation continues.”

He said he was puzzled by complaints over a lack of media coverage and debate of late, much of which has been blamed on a lack of detailed information about Norway’s daily involvement. The Norwegian government quickly supported the United Nations’ decision in March to try to protect Libyan civilians and sent six F16 fighter jets and support personnel to join the operation. The Norwegian jets reportedly have carried out much of the bombing since the operation began.

Norwegian officials have refused, however, to reveal details of targets or information on casualties. Officials in Denmark, for example, release daily reports of target locations, while the British and French also are more open than the Norwegians in charge. That’s said to have led to less ongoing coverage and less debate.

“We had enormous media coverage around the Libyan operation when it first began,” Sunde noted. “Every newspaper, radio- and TV station carried daily reports from our operations in Libya. Now the coverage is completely different. If we’re nonetheless seen as putting a lid on information, that’s something we take seriously.”

Sunde claimed the military doesn’t want to keep Norwegians in the dark, but rather wants “the greatest possible openness around our operations, within what’s professionally responsible.”

Ingebrigtsen of the defense ministry agreed that Norwegians should be told as much as possible. “It can happen that we give more information in the future on the operation itself,” he said, along with “a few more” details of attacks on a more regular basis.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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