U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs
U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, SICILY, Mar 24, 2011 — Gen. Carter Ham, commander U.S. Africa Command, addressed media regarding current military actions as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. In addition to thanking the servicemembers from the coalition and the community of Sigonella for their support to this operation, support that makes the operation possible, Ham provided a brief description of some of the ongoing military activities in the region and what he felt was the best fit for transitioning command.
"It's our hope â? and I think as a military person, the best and easiest transition would be to NATO because so many of the nations who are participating are NATO. This is a great example of why we have this military alliance that can come together very quickly and operate very effectively together."
The complete transcript is included below.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL CHERYL PHILLIPS: It's my pleasure to introduce General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. He is the commander of U.S. operations in Libya and is responsible for U.S. security interests throughout the continent of Africa.
Joining him up here will be Colonel Tonello, who is the commander of the Italian Air Force 41st Wing at Sigonella and Captain Scott Butler, Naval Air Station Sigonella. And with that, I'd like to turn over the podium to General Ham for a few remarks.
GENERAL CARTER F. HAM: Well, thank you all very much for coming out this afternoon. I had a great day today. I had the opportunity to visit the crew aboard the Mount Whitney, which is not too far from here, which, as you know, has been a command ship for Admiral Sam Locklear, the Joint Taskforce Odyssey Dawn commander. And while there, I had an opportunity to, first of all, say thank you to that crew and all that staff that have worked so hard, and then secondly, to have some discussions about the future and, notably, about transition of command.
From there, we had the opportunity to go out to the USS Kearsarge, a United States naval vessel with Marines embarked. Notably, this is the vessel from which the aircraft, which picked up the downed pilot in Libya a few nights ago â? they flew from that. I actually had an opportunity to talk to that particular crew about the mission. And again, an opportunity to say thanks to those sailors and Marines for all that they are doing, to talk about some upcoming missions, to make sure that they had the resources necessary to accomplish their mission.
Here, at Sigonella, I would just say that this is an absolutely vital hub for operations in Libya. You see here an international collection of forces, a wide variety of nations' militaries, have gathered at this site because it is so critical. It's strategic location has been important to us and been important for decades and centuries, as you all know, and it remains so today.
So we're very thankful to our hosts here in Sicily that have been so very supportive of the U.S. military over so many years, and now welcoming the international forces that are operating here and operating so effectively. We simply could not accomplish our mission without the great support of all those that are here at Sigonella. And with that, I'd be glad to take a few questions.
Q: Yes, sir. Good morning. We did have a â? (inaudible) â?
GEN. HAM: Okay, there we go. All right.
GEN. HAM: That's all right. Now I see you there, okay.
Q: I am â? (inaudible). Just a question: Do you think Sicily will be at risk of any direct attack from Libyan forces?
GEN. HAM: I'm sorry, could you â? one more time, please.
Q: Yes, do you think Sicily is at risk of any direct attack by Libyan forces?
GEN. HAM: I do not think that Sicily is under threat of direct attack. Our mission is under the United Nations Security Council resolution and it's very clear. It is to establish an arms embargo and to prevent the illegal shipment of arms to and from Libya. It is, secondly, to establish a no-fly zone so that his military aircraft cannot strike civilians, and thirdly, to protect the civilians from regime forces as best we can. And we're accomplishing those missions. But I think the people here are safe from Libyan attacks, certainly.
Q: Hi, Emma McIntosh with Reuters. I'm in the same place, hi.
GEN. HAM: Okay, okay.
Q: And this is a very international operation that's happening at the moment and there's been a lot of discussion about the leadership of it. I know that President Obama is coming under pressure, as well, to help come to a conclusion about overall leadership. Where do you see this going on leadership? Who's going to take charge?
GEN. HAM: It's our hope â? and I think as a military person, the best and easiest transition would be to NATO because so many of the nations who are participating are NATO. This is a great example of why we have this military alliance that can come together very quickly and operate very effectively together.
So I think that structure is probably the best way to make this transition. And I know those discussions are underway. As I mentioned, I've been traveling most of the day today so I'm not aware of any progress that may have been achieved today. But as a military commander, my preference would be to hand off to a NATO command.
Q: Diana Magnay, CNN. We were hearing reports from Reuters, who were taken to a morgue in Tajura today where they were shown military and civilian casualties, according to Reuters, after the coalition bombing, in Tajura, of a military site. Do you know anything about that, and can you be sure that there have been no civilian casualties to date?
GEN. HAM: I cannot be sure there have been no civilian casualties. What I can be sure of is that we are very, very precise and discriminate in our targeting. There have been more instances than I can think of in the conduct of this campaign where our pilots have made the correct decision to not attack a legitimate military target for concern of the civilian casualties that, that attack would have caused.
It is a very, very high priority. And I cannot emphasize enough the precision with which we conduct these strikes. I am not at all surprised that the regime has made claims of civilian casualties, and frankly, I'm surprised it's kind of taken them this long to kind of make that claim. We should also note, though, you know, the regime doesn't talk about the mosque that they destroyed in az-Zawiya, which we have evidence of. They don't talk about the thousands of Libyan citizens, which they have killed, which we know is very true.
So - and I'm sorry if I'm a little emotional about this - the people who are killing civilians are the regime of this current government leader in Libya. The people who are protecting the civilians are the forces of the United Nations, which are conducting these operations. Yes?
Q: General, Duncan Kennedy (ph), BBC News. We're now one week into this military campaign and General Qadhafi is still very much in action with his forces. Is there any end to this crisis? Is that acceptable that he's still operating like this?
GEN. HAM: What's not acceptable is the continued attacks by regime forces against their civilians and that's what we're working very hard on. We have had effect, and we know we have had effect, on fixed sites, on air-defense sites, which essentially no longer exist. We are having an effect on command-and-control facilities, though we do recognize and see that there is still some capacity for the regime to exercise control of its military forces. And that remains a target of priority for us.
We have had effect against weapons storage so that - and ammunition and fuel supplies that keep his military forces going. And we'll continue those kinds of attacks. What I would say has happened over the first week of this campaign is, early on, we had many fixed sites, which we knew we could target. There are not so many of those left, though there are some and we learn about more each day. But where we find ourselves now is what we call dynamic targeting, particularly on his fielded ground forces, which are conducting operations against the civilian populace.
It's the most difficult target that we have because they are in and around the built-up areas of Libya. And again, our concern for not causing civilian casualties makes that a particularly difficult target set for us. But we will endeavor to do the best we can, and are looking for innovative ways to increase our effectiveness. Maybe one more. Do we have time for one more, I think â? yes?
Q: General -(inaudible). Just a question about, if you could, tell us something more about the targets at Sabha in the southern part of Libya. It's Qadhafi's stronghold. Can you tell us something more about what happened there?
GEN. HAM: Yeah, again, I would begin by saying we do not and are not specifically targeting the regime leader. But what we do see in Sabha and other places are command-and-control facilities and air-defense systems, which could interfere with the execution of the no-fly zone. We detected those targets, attacked some of them last night.
I guess the message would be, we're not restricted, geographically. Where we see threats to the execution of the no-fly zone, where we see forces attacking civilians, where we see command-and-control facilities, we will attack those. And that's what you saw at Sabha. Okay, thank you all. Yep, one last one, okay.
Q: (Inaudible, background noise) -by the French. Can you please comment a little on that? I'd like to ask you if you think this mission creep is inevitable if you are to actually -(inaudible).
GEN. HAM: I'll answer both, if that's okay. We do have a report that there was, in fact, a Libyan jet that had -a military jet, which had taken off and as it was landing - I believe it was at Misrata; we can get that for the record for you. I think it was at the Misrata airfield that the mission was detected and as they were landing, or shortly after they were landing, they were, in fact, attacked and destroyed by a French aircraft executing the no-fly zone in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution.
With regard to mission creep, I'm not concerned about that. I have a clear mission. The clear mission is establish arms embargo -it's in place -the no-fly zone -it's in place. We are in a process of protecting civilians and that will continue. And then the last piece is transition to a designated headquarters, which I suspect will be NATO. So for me, I think our mission is well-defined and has a definite end state. And I think we'll be in good shape, with regard to that. And I'm not concerned, at present, about mission creep.
Thank you all very much. And again, many, many heartfelt thanks for all the great people of Sicily that have provided such great support here at Sigonella. To put it quite simply, we could not execute this mission without the support from this extraordinary community and this extraordinary base. Thank you very much.