DOD News Briefing with Rear Adm. Hueber via Telephone from USS Mount Whitney
COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations): Here at the Pentagon, we’re pleased to be joined today by Navy Rear Admiral Gerard P. Hueber, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, director for Policy, Resources and Strategy.
Admiral Hueber is here to give you an operational update via phone link again -- once again, as yesterday, from the USS Mount Whitney, afloat in the Mediterranean. Admiral Hueber became the director of Policy, Resources and Strategy at U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa in August of 2009. He is currently the chief of staff for Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, the task force established to provide operational and tactical international response to the unrest in Libya, and enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
With that, admiral, I will turn things over to you.
ADM. GERARD HUEBER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Dave. Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn coalition operations in Joint Operating Area Libya.
Before I bring you up to date with our operational picture, let me just take a moment to give you an update on the F-15 incident. On the evening of March 21st, you’re all well aware, two U.S. Air Force crew members ejected safely from their F-15E Strike Eagle, after the aircraft encountered an equipment malfunction in eastern Libya while conducting a strike mission against pro-Gadhafi air defense systems in accordance with United Nations Security [Council] Resolution 1973.
Both those crew members are safe. They’re in U.S. care and are currently going through a reintegration process. And I think my boss yesterday, Adm. Locklear, also addressed that issue.
Before I bring you up to date with our operational picture, first let me take a few moments to specifically point out our mission. Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn mission is to conduct military operations to protect the civilian population from attack or threat of attack, in accordance with United Nations Security [Council] Resolution 1973; again, to protect civilians and civilian populations under attack; to establish a no-fly zone to help protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities; and to enforce an arms embargo to prevent the flow of arms and armed mercenaries from being used against civilians.
To achieve our mission, innocent civilians and population centers must be protected. Gadhafi’s forces must cease fire. All attacks against civilians must stop. Forces must have stopped advancing on Benghazi and be pulled back from Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zawiyah, and humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.
Clearly, Gadhafi’s forces have not met those requirements and are in clear violation of the U.N. Security [Council] Resolution 1973. There is widespread reporting indicating Libyan ground forces are engaged in fighting in a number of cities, including Ajdabiya and Misurata, and they are threatening a number of others, putting innocent civilians in grave danger.
In Ajdabiya, regime forces intensified combat in, into and out of the city. In Misurata, regime forces continue to clear opposition, increase combat operations and target civilian populations in the city. As a result, we are pressurizing Gadhafi’s forces that are attacking those civilian populations.
So yesterday Adm. Locklear, the joint task force commander, Odyssey Dawn, provided you with a strategic outlook on our current operations in Libya. I’d like to give you an operational update on the operations of the joint task force within the last 24 hours and how those operations have affected forces loyal to Libyan leader Gadhafi.
First, let me reiterate our mission, which is to conduct military operations to protect those civilian populations from attack or the threat of attack.
We are doing that with a number of coalition partners. Let me point out, this operation is a fully-integrated coalition operation. Coalition ships, aircrafts and staffs are focused on a single mission, which is the enforcement of the U.N. Security [Council] Resolution 1973. We started out small and have now established a no-fly zone. We have attained maritime superiority, put in place embargo operations, interdicted ground forces, suppressed enemy air defenses, and are allowing for humanitarian assistance, all as a coalition operation.
Let me give you an overview of the air picture. Our coalition air forces are indeed making a significant and vital contribution to this mission. I cannot underestimate the impact or overstate that impact they continue to make in efforts to protect the Libyan people. Libyan air forces have been interdicted and attrited. Those aircraft have either been destroyed or rendered inoperable. We have no confirmed flight activity by regime air forces over the past 24 hours.
As of yesterday -- again, I said we started off small and have developed this coalition.
Coalition air forces are now flying 55 percent of the entire sorties of this coalition. We calculate those sorties in a 24-hour cycle, and as of yesterday, the 22nd of March, there were 175 aircraft sorties, 113 which were U.S. and 63 coalition. That number has increased just from three days ago, where we were flying a 15 percent coalition sortie rate. [sic; During a 24-hour cycle for March 22, there were 175 aircraft sorties, 113 U.S. and 62 coalition, for a coalition air forces flying rate of 35 percent. That coalition sortie rate of 35 percent is an increase from March 20 when the coalition sortie rate was 13 percent.]
In air defense activities, we have degraded the Libyan strategic surface-to-air missile systems to a negligible threat.
We believe that air defense system elements are severely degraded or destroyed, and have been by these coalition forces. We have seen no related surface-to-air activity associated with target acquisitions since strikes began on March 19th. We will continue our focus on the regime’s air force network that continues to pose a threat to coalition air operations enforcing the no-fly zone.
But as I reiterated before, as I mentioned before, we are putting pressure on Gadhafi’s ground forces that are attacking civilian populations and cities. And while those ground forces are engaged in fighting in Ajdabiya and Misurata and are threatening those number of others, that pressure from Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn coalition partners will continue.
I’d be glad now to take your questions.
COL. LAPAN: Bob.
Q: Admiral, this is Bob Burns from AP. I’d like to ask you to elaborate on your comment there a minute ago about putting pressure on Gadhafi’s ground forces. I wonder if you could be a little bit more specific about progress you’ve made on that. For example, could you quantify in any way the amount of his ground forces that have either been disabled or destroyed or have defected or have been stood down deliberately? And so how much of his capability remains in the -- on -- in terms of ground forces?
ADM. HUEBER: Let me tell you, while I won’t go into specific percentages, I’ll just mention the cities. From Benghazi, which we now believe to be under opposition control, we have moved west to Ajdabiya. In Ajdabiya to Misurata, our targeting priorities are mechanized forces, artillery, those mobile integrated -- those mobile surface-to-air missile sites, interdicting their lines of communications which supply their beans and their bullets, their command and control and any opportunities for sustainment of that activity.
Q: We can follow, or no --
COL. LAPAN: Go ahead.
Q: Hi, Admiral. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. On the sorties you mentioned, the 175 -- what’s the time frame for when those flew? And how many of those actually were airstrikes versus just flights?
ADM. HUEBER: That’s over a 24-hour cycle, so that cycle would have ended at - (pause) - zero-six hundred [6 a.m.] our time here this morning. And again, the total was 175, 113 U.S. and 63 [sic; 62] coalition.
That air cycle consists of defensive counter-air, suppression of enemy air defense -- of enemy air defenses, interdiction of those ground forces, a number of electronic warfare flights, but the number is not necessarily broken out by attacks.
Q: If I could just follow up, admiral, you mentioned, you know, the various targets, including mechanized forces and artillery and whatnot. Can you talk a little bit about the targets that include armor, tanks and whatnot? Are you surveilling those tanks and those forces before they’re struck to make sure that they are in fact attacking the populace and attacking the civilians, or is it just if they’re in the region, if they’re there, they’re considered a target of opportunity and they’re taken out?
ADM. HUEBER: I will tell you that part of that air plan, to your previous question, includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the initial preparation of the environment for our forces.
So when those forces that are used -- those aircraft are used for either suppression of those enemy air defenses or interdiction of those mechanized forces or that artillery, that is done as part of an entire air plan, and again, as part of those coalition air operations.
Q: Can I somewhat follow up on that, and a little more specifically, admiral? Barbara Starr from CNN.
What are you -- how are you communicating to Libyan forces to tell them to position themselves to avoid attack if that is what they want to do? There is a good deal of information out there indicating that you have used Commando Solo or other airborne communications or methods to tell them to position themselves in a non-threatening manner.
So, one, how are you communicating to pro-Gadhafi forces? And, two, how and what are you communicating to rebel forces?
ADM. HUEBER: Barbara, thank you very much for your question.
As part of our coalition operation, we have methods, which I will not discuss; that we have the ability to pass that information and those communications that we have told both the opposition forces of how to maneuver, and we have also told Gadhafi’s forces of what they were expected to do in accordance with the UNSCR. And again, our view and our mission is perfectly clear of what we have asked those forces to do.
And that’s the cease-fire. All attacks against civilians must stop. The forces must stop advancing -- I mentioned Benghazi; be pulled back from Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zawiyah -- and humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya. That message is being sent to the people of Libya and to Gadhafi’s forces.
Q: If I may follow up, what is your assessment of the current positioning of pro-Gadhafi forces in both Misurata and Ajdabiya?
ADM. HUEBER: I will tell you that the opposition in both of those cities is under attack and the civilian population in both of those cities attacked. And as I mentioned, in Misurata and Ajdabiya specifically, Gadhafi’s forces are targeting population centers specifically.
Q: (Off mic) -- to go into those cities with your attacks, how do you get them out of there? The pro-Gadhafi forces.
ADM. HUEBER: Yeah, Barbara, what I would like to do is go back to our mission, which was clearly stated by the United Nations Security [Council] Resolution, and which was mentioned specifically in the president’s speech. And that is that our mission is to protect those civilians and civilian population centers.
COL. LAPAN: Nathan.
Q: Admiral, Nathan Hodge of The Wall Street Journal.
You had described Benghazi at this point being under opposition control. Has there been any attempt by the coalition to reach out to the leadership of the opposition, to the leadership of rebel forces?
ADM. HUEBER: No, there has not.
Q: Admiral, hi. It’s David Cloud with the L.A. Times. I just want to try to understand as best I can the nature of your operations within Misurata and the other cities. Are you at the moment carrying out tactical airstrikes with -- in a kind of urban environment where you observe Libyan ground forces attacking, you know, opposition-held areas or obviously civilians? I mean, in other words, are you undertaking targets of opportunity in an effort to stop active combat operations by the Libyan forces?
ADM. HUEBER: In protecting those civilians, in accordance with what we’re doing with our coalition partners in our air plan, yes, we are interdicting and putting the pressure on Gadhafi’s forces that are attacking population centers.
Q: Detail what -- the nature of those strikes. In other words, are they primarily against fixed positions, armor, as you described? Or are there also attacks against units that are maybe on foot, in fact, I mean, carrying out attacks? Or is it artillery and mechanized units, or are there other sorts of attacks?
ADM. HUEBER: Yeah, again, as I’ve mentioned a couple times, what’s been expected of all forces, whether they be mechanized forces or artillery or air forces, they are to cease fire.
All attacks from -- against civilians must stop. And those forces that are advancing on the cities of Benghazi, Ajdabiya today, and Misurata today, must stop advancing and humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.
COL. LAPAN: Anna.
Q: Admiral, this is Anna Mulrine with the Christian Science Monitor. I wanted to follow up on operations in urban areas like Misurata. I mean, to what extent, you know, can you go in there to protect the population, you know, given the close urban situation? I mean, can you talk a little bit about the challenges of operating in an urban environment?
ADM. HUEBER: Thank you for your question. It’s an extremely complex and difficult environment. And our primary focus is to interdict those forces before they enter the city -- and again, I said they were targeting population centers in the city -- interdict those forces before they enter the city, cut off their lines of communication and cut off their command and control.
Q: Do you have any evidence that Libyan forces are standing down, that they’re responding to your information operations?
ADM. HUEBER: We have no indication that the Gadhafi’s forces are adhering to the United Nations Security [Council] Resolution 1973. And that is why we continue to pressurize those forces.
COL. LAPAN: Jennifer.
Q: Sir, Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. Of the sorties flown, how many of them were combat air patrol missions, CAP missions?
And of those, what percentage were American fighter planes involved in the CAP missions?
And further, there are reports, AP reports from the ground, that Gadhafi forces had pulled back from Misurata in recent hours. Are you saying those reports are wrong?
And finally, do you consider yourself at war right now?
ADM. HUEBER: Well, to answer the first question, I don’t have that information on the number of sorties that are broken out that way.
Second of all, our indications here are that Gadhafi’s forces are not adhering to the security resolution.
And, again, your last question?
Q: Do you consider yourself at war right now?
ADM. HUEBER: We are carrying out the mission of the United Nations Security [Council] Resolution 1973 and the direction of the president in his speech.
COL. LAPAN: Joe.
Q: Admiral, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra.
If Gadhafi doesn’t respond to the 1973 U.N. resolution, do you have a plan B to counter his ground forces? And are you confident that other countries within the coalition won’t send special forces on the ground to Libya?
ADM. HUEBER: It’s my primary focus today to discuss the current operations that we are in, and I would not project or discuss future military operations.
Q: But admiral, when do you think -- could you give us a timeline -- when do you think the U.S. is capable or is able to transfer the command to other countries within the coalition?
ADM. HUEBER: From the Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, I know that there are a number of discussions going on at a number of political levels, both national and international, where that decision will be decided. And we at Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, we will move to -- forward on those decisions.
Q: Admiral, Amy Butler with Aviation Week. I’d like to ask you about some hardware. I’m curious what impact, if any, could the emergence of the SA-24 [shoulder-fired missile] in that area have on air operations either now with the CAPs or in the future when you have to go lower level and do humanitarian ops. And secondly, can you give us a definitive answer on why the F-22 wasn’t used in any of these operations?
ADM. HUEBER: To tell you I wouldn’t want to get into the specific technical details, and I don’t have that second answer.
COL. LAPAN: David.
Q: Admiral, this is David Martin with CBS. I thought I heard you say in response to Barbara’s question that you were telling opposition forces how to maneuver. Did I hear you correctly? And what are you -- what are you telling them? Are you telling them not to go down such and such a road because we’re attacking there? And how does that sort with General Ham’s statements that there are no official communications with the opposition?
ADM. HUEBER: That’s true. I misstated that. The message we are providing is a message to the regime forces and telling them what they need to do to comply with the U.N. Security [Council] Resolution.
Q: (Off mic) -- forces anything.
ADM. HUEBER: Yeah, that’s true. I -- the answer that I had given was we are providing that to the regime forces. And that’s the message.
COL. LAPAN: Tom.
Q: Sir, Tom Vanden Brook from USA Today. Have your coalition attacks within cities caused any civilian casualties?
ADM. HUEBER: Yeah, there have been no reports of civilian casualties. Our mission here is to protect the civilian populace. And we choose our targets and plan our actions with that as a top priority.
Q: Thank you, admiral. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. Statements coming out of BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China -- and South Africa are calling for a cease-fire now. Is it the right time to call for a cease-fire? When do you think that could be the time for it?
ADM. HUEBER: To achieve our mission, the innocent civilians in the population centers must be protected. The Gadhafi’s forces must cease fire, and all attacks against civilians must stop. The forces of Gadhafi must be pulled back from Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zawiyah. Our efforts have been going well. I can’t speculate on conclusion dates, but I want to stress this is a multi-phase operation designed to enforce the U.N. Security [Council] Resolution and deny the Libyan regime the ability to use its force against its own people.
Our coalition partners continue to make great contribution to the mission; assume more and more responsibility.
COL. LAPAN: Want to try to clarify?
Q: Admiral, just to clarify something, you were asked whether or not there were civilian casualties as a result of your attacks inside Libyan cities. So just to make sure we all understand, are U.S. forces or coalition forces in fact now attacking inside cities? And second, do you have any communications with opposition or rebel forces?
ADM. HUEBER: Barbara, I don’t want to discuss specific locations. Again, there have been no reports of civilian casualties. Our mission here is to protect the civilian populace, and we choose those targets and we plan our actions with that as a top priority.
COL. LAPAN: Tony.
Q: Tony Capaccio, with Bloomberg News. Can you quantify for the public this pressurizing on Gadhafi’s forces? How many bombs have you dropped in the last two or three days? Do you have those statistics?
ADM. HUEBER: No, I do not have those statistics.
Q: (Off mic) -- there in the cost of the campaign every day.
I have a second question. To what extent are Gadhafi’s premier units -- the 32nd, commanded by his son, and the 9th Brigade -- involved in the attacks on the cities that you’re trying to quell?
ADM. HUEBER: Those forces are fully engaged in this conflict that is attacking those civilian populations.
Q: (Off mic) -- aggressively?
ADM. HUEBER: If you could please repeat that question? We --
Q: Are you attacking aggressively the 32nd Brigade, commanded by Gadhafi’s son, and the 9th Brigade, his two premier units?
Are those being attacked with some vigor?
ADM. HUEBER: Yeah, I wouldn’t discuss the specific targets, and we don’t -- we don’t call out specific units for attack.
COL. LAPAN: Patty.
Q: What are the boundaries of the no-fly zone right now? Where are you flying?
ADM. HUEBER: (Audio break) -- in the joint operation area that has been established for this operation. As I said, we started out small. And as the coalition has grown, we have expanded the no-fly zone from the west -- excuse me -- from the east over Benghazi and have moved that. As forces have reported on station, we’ve moved that clearly to the west.
Q: So how far to the west? Are you covering -- we’ve been hearing since Sunday that the no-fly zone is effectively in place, but is it a no-fly zone over all of the coastal areas? Where -- (audio break)?
ADM. HUEBER: The no-fly zone is established over Libya, and we have no indications of air traffic in the last days.
Q: (Audio break) -- from boundary to boundary?
ADM. HUEBER: Boundary to boundary on the coasts.
Q: Admiral, Chris Lawrence from CNN.
You mentioned that you have very good intelligence and surveillance of what Gadhafi’s forces are doing on the ground. What specific armament have you observed his forces using on civilians? Is he using tanks, mortars? What sort of artillery capability have you specifically observed?
ADM. HUEBER: Thank you for the question. Tanks, artillery, rocket launchers.
Q: And is that outside of the major cities, Misurata? Or is that -- are you noticing those being used inside the cities?
ADM. HUEBER: It is outside, and they are making incursions into the city and targeting the population centers in those cities with that equipment.
COL. LAPAN: (Off mic) -- wrap up. Jennifer?
Q: Secretary Clinton said yesterday that there were reports that Gadhafi’s son may have been killed. Can you confirm those reports?
ADM. HUEBER: I have no information on that.
COL. LAPAN: All right. This will be our last question.
Q: Thank you, admiral. Raghubir Goyal from Asia Today.
Mr. Gadhafi is saying that he will not leave until you leave, and there is no cease-fire, and he’s still killing his own people on the ground. What I’m asking is, how can you take him out without having your ground forces inside Libya? Because he’s not now agreeing with the 1973 U.N. Security Council Resolution, as you said.
So what is the next step for you to get him out and protect the civilians -- (inaudible) -- killed more, in the thousands?
ADM. HUEBER: Thank you for the question. The coalition is not targeting Gadhafi. The focus on our mission is to uphold the U.N. Security [Council] Resolution, which includes protecting Libyan civilians and enforcing of the no-fly zone.
Q: Can I ask you: Can you achieve your mission of U.N. Security Council 1973 without ground forces?
ADM. HUEBER: I lost you there. Can you say the question again, please?
Q: Can you achieve your mission of 1973 U.N. Security Council Resolution without ground forces?
ADM. HUEBER: Our mandate now is to enforce the no-fly zone and to allow humanitarian assistance to be available to the Libyan people.
Q: (Off mic) -- kill more people.
COL. LAPAN: We’ve got to go.
Q: Admiral, it’s Tony Capaccio with Bloomberg again. Can you characterize the level of violence against the civilian population since the allied campaign began on Saturday? Has it intensified or remained the same? The impression we get from you is, it’s gotten worse since the allies started bombing. Is that accurate?
ADM. HUEBER: Our intelligence today that there’s no indication that Gadhafi’s forces are pulling back from Misurata or Ajdabiya.
Q: Has it intensified since Saturday is what I’m asking, not what they’re doing right now.
ADM. HUEBER: The U.N. Security [Council] Resolution is clear. And that is that there is a cease-fire, and those forces must stop all attacks against civilians, and the forces must stop advancing on those cities, and that humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people in Libya.
COL. LAPAN: Okay, admiral, we’re out of time here, and I’ll send it back to you for any closing remarks.
ADM. HUEBER: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today. You brought up some tough questions, but that’s why I’m here: to ensure you have a clear understanding of what the coalition forces are doing.
In my opinion, the coalition has accomplished quite a lot together. We’ll continue to work together to ensure the protection and security of the people of Libya from violence at the hands of the current regime and that violence and attacks against civilians must stop. While using ground forces for this effort is not an option, let me clarify, there should be no mistaking our sincere commitment to protecting the Libyan people.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk with you today. Thanks to the press for taking the time to tell the story of the efforts our forces are taking to successfully meet the objectives of the mission clearly expressed in the United Nations Security [Council] Resolution 1973.
As military and our civilian leaders have previously said, this is a broad international effort. We’re working day and night, carefully planning the way ahead to transition to a coalition lead for this operation. We’re doing our very, very best to move ahead expeditiously, yet remain vigilant in our concerns for the future of the people of Libya.
I’m proud of the work we are doing together and look forward to our future achievements. Again, thank you so much for the opportunity.