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DOD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Gortney from the Pentagon on Libya Operation Odyssey Dawn

Presenters: Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, Director of The Joint Staff
March 20, 2011

Go to http://www.defense.gov/news/DJS_Presser.pdf to view briefing slides associated with this transcript. 

                COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Good afternoon all.  Thank you for being here.  We have for you today, to provide you an operational update on our operations in Libya, the director of the Joint Staff, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney.

                 Sir?

                 VADM BILL GORTNEY:   Thank you.

                 Good afternoon everyone, and thanks for being here today.  I want to take just a few minutes to update you on our military operations in Libya, and then I’d be very happy to take your questions.

                 As you know, we began our enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 yesterday with cruise missiles strikes on selected air defense systems and facilities ashore, as well as air defense command and control infrastructure.  I reported yesterday that coalition forces launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean.  That number eventually rose to a total of 124 in the hours after I briefed you. 

                 We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime’s air defense capability to include their ability to launch many of their SA5s which are the long-range surface-to-air missiles, the SA3s and the SA2s.  The slide at my left shows a rough depiction of where these additional strikes were executed.  The initial strikes that I briefed you yesterday are highlighted in yellow and the strikes after I briefed you are in red.

                 There has been no new air activity by the regime and we have detected no radar emission from any of the air defense sites targeted, and there has been a significant decrease in the use of all Libyan air surveillance radars, which most of those appear to be limited now only to the areas around Tripoli and Sirte.  We are not ruling out further such missile strikes against valid targets if and when the need arises.

                 In the past 24 hours we also conducted air strikes on military facilities and aircraft from an airfield at Ghardabiya, not far from Misrata.  Next slide, please. 

                 Now, these strikes were carried out last night, East Coast time, by three B-2 bombers launching from Whiteman Air Force Base dropping Joint Direct Attack Munitions.  The photograph to my left shows an overview of that airfield before the strike.  And this is a dual-use airfield, meaning that it’s also used for commercial -- civilian commercial traffic.  You can see the area -- let me point it out to you -- in green here in the center area is where the commercial part is.  And the military hardened aircraft shelters for their fighter aircraft are in these triangular shapes in the four corners.  We targeted only those areas and those facilities outside the box, the civilian part used to support military fighter aircraft. 

                 Next slide, please. 

                 Here is a depiction of one of the targets, one of those triangular parts, and you can see the scar damage from the hardened aircraft shelters, one of which we’ve blown up here that is actually flattened.

                 Next slide. 

                 In addition to the B-2 strikes, coalition tactical fighters also began hitting the ground forces of Colonel Gadhafi on the outskirts of Benghazi. 

                 Next slide, please. 

                 Shown here is a representation of coalition strikes against Gadhafi’s ground maneuver forces about 10 miles south of Benghazi.  Fifteen U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft participated in these attacks, as well as aircraft from France and Great Britain.  They were backed up by U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers providing electronic warfare support.

                 Full battle reports from these strikes are still coming in, but we judge these also to have been quite successful at the halting regime’s ground movement in this region.  The highlighted box are some still shots from the Harrier’s weapons systems video. 

                 Benghazi is not completely safe from attack, but it is certainly under less threat than it was yesterday.  We believe his forces are under significant stress and suffering from both isolation and a good deal of confusion.

                 Next slide, please. 

                 You can see here a basic laydown of how we see the battle space today with the regime forces more pressed and less free to maneuver than they were before operations commenced.  We now have the ability -- capability to patrol the air space over Libya and we are doing just that, shifting to a more consistent and persistent air presence.  As Admiral Mullen reported this morning, the no-fly zone is effectively in place.

                 Let me conclude by repeating what I said yesterday.  This is an international effort designed to enforce a U.N. mandate, and since I spoke to you last the coalition has been joined by forces from Spain, Belgium, Denmark, and Qatar. 

                 The United States is militarily in the lead, but General Ham is working diligently to effect a smooth transition to a coalition command structure in the next few days.  We do not know what -- we do not know when we will be ready to do that and we do not yet know what that structure will look like, but we’re working very hard to define it.  And we remain committed to creating and then sustaining the conditions under which our allies and partners can take the lead in implementing the no-fly zone.

                 And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Okay.  Let’s see.  Luis

                 Q:  Admiral, yesterday you were kind of leery about -- or hesitant to talk about whether Colonel Gadhafi was being made a target.  Is his command and control in Tripoli or he himself now a target?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We are focusing on the conditions that we need on the targets that we need to enforce the no-fly zone, which is the command and control’s structure of that integrated air and missile defense system and the headquarters elements associated with it and regime targets that might be moving on to the Libyan people.

                 Q:  So you’re not going after Gadhafi?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We are not going after Gadhafi.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Courtney.

                 Q:  You mentioned -- one of the slides had specifically that there was an infantry element that was targeted, I think the F-16 and 15 strikes.  Why is that part of the mission if the mission overall is to set the conditions in place for a no-fly zone and then to enforce that no-fly zone?  Why are you going after infantry elements and troops?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, actually, they were mechanized positions and they were advancing on Benghazi.  And so to protect the Libyan people we took them under attack.

                 Q:  So that is -- Gadhafi’s forces, ground forces, are a legitimate target of this coalition in this ongoing --

                 VADM GORTNEY:  If they are moving and advancing on to the opposition forces into Libya, yes, we will take them under attack.

                 Q:  What’s the difference between protecting the Libyan people and flying close air support for the rebel forces?  It seems like that’s what you’re doing.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I wouldn’t say close air support for the opposition forces.  We knew that these advance elements were moving into Benghazi with armored equipment in order to do that, and we took them under attack.

                 Q:  What do they have to do to stop the attacks?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  What does --

                 Q:  What do Libyan ground forces have to do to stop the attacks?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  If they no longer advance on Benghazi would be a good sign.

                 Q:  And does that hold for all the other -- like for instance, you’ve got Misrata up there and Ajdabiyah.  Does that not hold for all these towns that you’ve mentioned, they have to just stop advancing and that will stop the attacks?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not ready to answer that particular question, sir.

                 Q:  Are they any advance --

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Hang on, guys.  One at a time.  One at a time, please.

                 Q:  Are the troops advancing anywhere, Libyan troops?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I don’t have that intelligence at this time.

                 Q:  Do you take seriously the ceasefire that has been called by Gadhafi?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I question anything out of -- that Gadhafi calls for.  He called for a ceasefire and then told his troops to move into Benghazi after he called for a ceasefire.

                 Q:  Any Arab country other than Qatar will be joining the coalition?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  There are other countries that are going to be joining the coalition, but they’ve asked that they make the announcement.

                 Q:  Do you have an assessment of the number of ground forces that you hit?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  No, the BHA has not come in yet.  The bomb hit assessment has not come in yet.

                 Q:  You don’t have any idea at all whether it was hundreds or dozens or --

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I would say more in the dozens, clearly.

                 Q:  And do you have any estimate of civilian casualties?  There’s been some 48 claimed.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We have no indications of any civilian casualties.

                 Q:  No indication.

                 Q:  Sir, are we allying or coordinating these attacks with rebel forces in any way?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  No, we are not, not at this time.

                 Q:  Sir, the Arab League has expressed reservations about the intensity of the operations, the tempo.  Will that be a factor as you consider future operations?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Just shortly before I came in here the Arab League endorsed our enforcement of the no-fly zone.

                 Q:  Are there any Arab countries participating right now in strikes or in the air operations?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We are in the process of enabling getting them into and basing them -- transporting them and getting them into the theater.

                 Q:  Which countries?  Which Arab countries are we talking about?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, the one country that we have announced is Qatar.  We are moving -- we are assisting the movement of those forces to help support the no-fly zone.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Matthew.

                 Q:  Where did the F-15 and F-16 that participate to the – to the raid came from?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not going to discuss specific basing, but they did come out of Europe.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  All right.

                 Q:  Any coalition aircraft or munitions lost?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Lost?

                 Q:  Shot down.

                 Q:  Shot down.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  No.  No, not at all.  All of the aircrew have returned safely to their home bases.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Okay.  Jim.

                 Q:  Sir, there’s still danger to these aircrew out there.  I mean, there can still be -- there are people still firing up in the air and there are other -- there are not -- maybe not missiles, but there are people firing guns at them, right?  Can you describe what they’re flying into?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, at this point the fixed surface-to-air missiles, the SA-2, 3 and 5, and the early warning radars that would target -- would tell them where to point their – (unintelligible) – have been taken down and we do not see them to emit.  There are now mobile surface-to-air missiles, SA-6, SA-8, and a particular large number of handheld what we called manned pads, SA-7 type, and there are quite a few of those out there.  To deal with the radar guided site as airplanes are up there, we have airplanes that are designed to electronically attack or take under attack those particular targets, a package of those in order to do that.  And then we use our -- against those, the handheld we use self-defense measures and speed and maneuver.

                 Q:  So --

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  In the back.  Hang on one second.

                 Q:  Would Turkey join the operation if you discuss it with them?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m sorry, say it again, sir.

                 Q:  Will Turkey also join the coalition?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I have not received that they’ve officially asked for us to announce that or that they’re still under consideration.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Jen.

                 Q:  So if there are explosions being heard from anti-aircraft weapons in Tripoli, what should we assume those are?  Those are mobile systems?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We haven’t -- the surface-to-air guns, the triple-A (anti-aircraft artillery), we haven’t directly targeted those fixed sites or the mobile sites, so they could be any of those -- either one of those.

                 Q:  Sir, if you’re saying that the -- that Gadhafi’s forces have to stop advancing and that would stop the attacks on Gadhafi’s forces, does the reverse hold true, if they stop and the rebel forces then move into their area are they -- are you saying they’re not allowed to engage the rebel forces under any circumstances and they have to lay their arms down, or they simply have to stop forward movement?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  At this point I’m not ready to specify the messaging that we have put out there.

                 Q:  Do you think the Libyan air force is capable to fly helicopters, combat helicopters?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Yes.  Even in all of the no-fly zones that we have set up over the years, we never fully prevented airplanes from flying.  At some point if -- you know, it’s a vast amount of air space.  So if he chose to he might be able to get something up.  I wouldn’t rule out that nothing will fly by any stretch.  I will tell you that we will -- anything that does fly that we detect we will engage.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Yes, ma’am, in the back.

                 Q:  You said you haven’t targeted any fixed or mobile radar sites yet.  Why not?  Are they not a danger?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, we’ve attacked the fixed radar sites.  We haven’t attacked the mobile surface-to-air radar sites.  The triple-A (anti-aircraft artillery) sites, whether they’re fixed or they’re mobile, there’s so many of them that it’s better to avoid them than it is to try and attack each one of them individually.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Courtney.

                 Q:  I know there’s a concern you had move those to populated areas.  Have you seen any evidence of that?

                VADM GORTNEY:  We haven’t seen any evidence of that, but that would -- we couldn’t rule that probability out.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Courtney.

                 Q:  Can you just go through a couple of the numbers?  You said the TLAMs (Tomahawk Missiles) that were fired out rose to 124.  When did that end?  When did sort of that barrage to 124 end, and have anymore been shot off today?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We talked to you about 16:30 yesterday afternoon Eastern Standard Time, and it was probably around 21, 22:00 Eastern Standard Time last night is when we then started shooting a few more.

                Q:  And have anymore been shot off today?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  That I’m not aware of.

                 Q:  And then one other.  Which nations right now are actively patrolling the no-fly zone?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  You’re going to see United States, United Kingdom, France, at this particular point. And as nations you’ve seen fly their airplanes in, you’ve seen Canada arrive.  They get there, they set up their infrastructure, their basing requirements, aircrew go into crew rest and then we work them into the next day’s flying cycle.  So every day you’re going to see more nations start participating.

                 Q:  Do you have any sense of how many planes are in the air right now that are actively enforcing it?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not going to talk about specific tactics or numbers at this time.

                 Q:  Any sense when Qatar will start flying?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  No.  We’re in the process of relocating them there.

                 Q:  Admiral, Admiral Mullen said this morning that the objective was to create sort of a 24/7 overwatch over Benghazi.  Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, Benghazi is part of the no-fly zone, and so we want to be able to enforce the no-fly zone in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution 24 hours a day.

                 Q:  But is the idea to expand that? 

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, the no-fly zone will encompass probably all the way from Tripoli to Benghazi and south -- I hazard to guess the number of miles.  It’s such a vast area.  But you can focus it on about the top third of the country would be a good rule of thumb at this point.

                 Q:  How far west has it -- how much territory westward of Benghazi is -- right now do you feel is safe enough to start flying the patrols?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, we’re enforcing from -- when you see us strike into Tripoli, we’re strike -- into targets into Tripoli all the way to south of Benghazi, that’s where we’re enforcing the no-fly zone so --

                 Q:  How many days do you anticipate the U.S. will be involved in air strikes?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  It’s difficult to tell at this time.  As we -- once again, as I mentioned yesterday, we’re on the leading edge of a coalition effort here that we will eventually transition to the rest of the coalition, and then we’ll be providing unique capability.  At this time it’s a little too difficult to predict on when that is, and that’s a function of as countries flow in they get sufficient capacity and numbers to then take over the brunt of the mission.

                 Q:  Can you say days, not weeks or --

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not going to kind of drive it to a timeline at this time.  I would --

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Sir, right in front.

                 Q:  When you say transition to the rest of the coalition, what exactly does that mean, to one country, to several countries? 

                 (Cross talk.)

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Well, to the coalition.

                 Q:  -- move this off.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Yeah.  Our intent is to be a part of the coalition throughout, transfer the command to a coalition command, and then start using more of the capabilities that the coalition nations don’t provide that we have, so kind of shift the main effort.  That would be tankers, electronic support aircraft, ISR, things of that nature.  I would not rule out that we will probably most likely be continuing some portion of the fighter mission as well, but not the preponderance of the force. 

                 Q:  Could you specify the, you know, specialized aircraft?  You mentioned the Growlers, Hawkeyes, AWACs, Rivet Joint, I mean can you specify what you --

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Yeah.  Many nations will be putting their AWACs into --

                 Q:  U.S.?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  U.S.  You’re going to see things of that nature.  Rivet -- you know, the specialty electronic airplanes, sensors, AWE&Cs (airborne early warning and control) for airborne command and control will be in there.  Of course tankers will be in that regard.  Logistics flight, there’ll be a great bit of logistics to enable all of this activity between the basing --

                 Q:  Search and rescue or --

                 Q:  What’s that?  F-22?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We haven’t specified the types of airplanes that will ultimately be there, sir.

                 Q:  Any search and rescue assets from the U.S.?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We have search and rescue afloat at this particular time.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Right here in the corner.

                 Q:  Could you estimate what the cost has been so far for the operations and how that cost is being split among the coalition?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not able to estimate at this time.

                 Q:  What do you think of estimates that enforcing the no-fly zone will cost between $100 million and $300 million a week?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Our focus at this particular point is to set up and enforce the no-fly zone, and that’s what we’re doing.  And we’ll be looking at the costs at another time.

                 Q:  How many aircraft in total will it take to enforce the no-fly zone?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We’ll take as many coalition partners as want to come in to do this with us.

                 Q:  Have any coalition partners committed to putting people on the ground if asked?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  At this point we’re setting up the conditions to enforce the no-fly zone and it doesn’t include boots at the ground.

                 Q:  How many coalition partners do you have now, right now?  Number.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We have many nations that are waiting to announce themselves, but you’ll have the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy, Belgium, and Qatar [Belgium and Spain].

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Sir.

                 Q:  Is the Commando Solo aircraft flying, and if so, what kind of broadcast messages is it sending?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We’re putting up all of our specialized aircraft of that nature, and I’m not ready -- I’m not able to talk about the messages.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Next question.

                 Q:  Any -- (unintelligible)?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  No, sir.

                 Q:  Sir, do you have overflight allowances from neighboring countries?  Are neighboring countries allowing you to base maintenance or crews in them, and if so, which ones or how many of them?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Clearly, we need overflight and basing agreements with many nations, and we’re not going to discuss what nations are doing that.  We’ll let them make that announcement.

                 Q:  Sir, there are --

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  One more.

                 Q:  There are breaking reports of a plume of smoke over Gadhafi’s residence.  Can you guarantee that coalition forces are not going to target Gadhafi?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  I can -- at this particular point I can guarantee that he’s not on a targeting list. 

                 Q:  Is there a “but” to that?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  What’s that?

                 Q:  Is there a “but” to that?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  The rest of that is, is if he happens to be in a place, if he’s inspecting a surface-to-air missile site, we don’t have any idea that he’s there or not, then --

                 Q:  This is his residence.

                 Q:  Yeah.

                 VADM GORTNEY:  Yeah.  But no, we’re not targeting his residence.  It’s time we’re there to set the conditions and enforce the United Nations Security Council resolution.  That’s what we’re doing right now, and limiting it to that.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  Okay.  One in the back and then we’re finished.

                 Q:  Have you used Incirlik Air Base in Turkey during the operation?

                 MR.         :  I’m sorry, say it again.

                 Q:  Have you used Incirlik Air Base in Turkey during the operation?

                 VADM GORTNEY:  We’re not going to mention any nation that we’re using basing or over-flights.  We’re going to let those countries make those announcements.

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN:  All right.  Thanks, guys.