[Transcript of Operation ELLAMY update delivered by Major General John Lorimer on 21 March 2011]
Speech delivered by Chief of Defence Staff, Strategic Communications Officer, Major General John Lorimer at Ministry of Defence, Main Building, London on Monday 21 March 2011.
Good afternoon; I am Major General John Lorimer, the Chief of Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer and the MOD's Media Spokesman on operations.
I would like to update you on Operation ELLAMY, which is the name for the United Kingdom's military support to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. The operation has entered its third day, after a second night that saw British Forces in action in support of the Resolution. Meanwhile, the Coalition continues to build, and each country will make its own announcements at the appropriate time. They join, amongst others, us, France, Canada, Belgium, Italy and the United States.
First, I'll give you a short overview of the rationale for the operation, then brief on last night's maritime and air operations.
Now, on March 19, Colonel Gaddafi's forces launched an attack on Benghazi, shelling residential suburbs. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Head of the opposition Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi, said the city had been bombarded with artillery and rockets, and eyewitnesses on the ground reported seeing government tanks inside the city. Numerous civilian casualties, including children, the elderly and women have been reported.
Air strikes by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to enforce a No-Fly Zone succeeded in stopping the artillery assault on Benghazi. But on the evening of 19 March about 200 pro-Gaddafi Revolutionary Committee forces were said to be targeting anti-Gaddafi forces in the streets of the city. Opposition sources are now saying that Colonel Gaddafi is withdrawing his troops from Benghazi and increasing attacks elsewhere in the country.
In Misrata, Colonel Gaddafi's forces have launched artillery and tank bombardments against the city over the weekend, causing dozens of injuries and damage to electricity and water supplies. Fighting continued on 20 March with reports that pro-Gaddafi forces had entered the city with tanks, and that naval vessels in the port were preventing aid from landing.
Although the Libyan authorities again claimed a ceasefire yesterday, there has been no evidence to suggest that there has been any change in the stance of the Libyan military, and, as the Prime Minister has said, we will continue to judge Colonel Gaddafi on his actions; and our assessment is that he is in breach of these obligations, so we will continue to enforce the Resolution.
Now let me move onto last night's operations.
You will be interested, I'm sure, in the missile attacks that were called off overnight. The plan was to fire Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from our submarine, and Stormshadows from our Tornado GR4s last night. Our targets formed part of the command and control systems of the Libyan military including their air defence systems. The initial attack came from one of our Trafalgar Class submarines (operating in the Mediterranean) firing Tomahawks; these were launched and successfully attacked the intended targets. Despite Libyan reports and claims to the contrary we are not aware of any civilian casualties.
Then later last night, the plan was to attack other targets, with Stormshadow, a mission undertaken by Tornados flying from RAF Marham - a return journey of some 3000 miles. However, after the Tornados had taken off, we learned that there were civilians in the area. We therefore took the decision to call off the attack and the Tornado aircraft returned to base with all their missiles. Now this clearly demonstrates that we take all measures possible to reduce the chances of harming innocent civilians. And despite what you might see from the Libyan authorities, we have no evidence to suggest that we have caused innocent civilian casualties.
Moving onto other developments. We now have Typhoon aircraft based at the Italian Air Force base Gioia del Colle (Joya dell collay). They arrived there yesterday afternoon, and these aircraft are from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Leuchars in Fife. They will operate from Gioia Del Colle in southern Italy as part of the Coalition's enforcement of the No Fly Zone. This group of aircraft and their support have formed up as 906 Expeditionary Air Wing and they will be supported by 907 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. 907 Wing comprises VC10, Nimrod R1 and Sentinel aircraft providing air-to-air refuelling and reconnaissance capabilities. C-17 and C-130 aircraft have also been used to assist in the build up of our deployed forces.
Looking ahead, we expect to deploy Tornado aircraft to Gioia del Colle very soon.
Turning to British maritime forces in the Mediterranean, HMS Westminster remains off the coast of Libya and HMS Cumberland is in the region ready to support operations. Once the NATO planning process is complete, they could contribute to ensuring the arms embargo is upheld. Indeed, NATO Navies and Air Forces are experienced in maritime security operations in the Mediterranean for example through Operation Active Endeavour. Our Trafalgar class submarine remains on alert in the operating area.
Those ships and aircraft in the region are part of a layered defence against the illegal flow of weapons into Libya, the key to the embargo's success will be the international community coming together to prevent the illicit flow of arms, weapons and mercenaries.
Now I am not going to talk about our degree of success against specific targets but our position remains as it was yesterday - we are satisfied that our attacks, and those of our partners, have been highly effective in degrading the Libyan air defence and command and control capability, as part of our setting the conditions to enforce the no fly zone as required UNSCR 1973.
Thank you very much.