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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 25, 2011

[Go to http://www.defense.gov/news/d20110325slides.pdf to view briefing slides associated with this transcript.]

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Good afternoon again, everyone.  Thanks for coming again.  Let me start off today with a quick update on the operations over the last 24 hours.  As you can see up there on the slide, the coalition struck more targets again yesterday and overnight.  Most of these strikes were not pre-planned, but rather targets of opportunity, meaning that we responded to threats as they were occurring or that a new target presented itself as vulnerable and important to hit at that time. 

            For instance, you can see we struck more regime ground forces outside Ajdabiya.  They were primarily mechanized forces -- that is, tanks -- which we assessed, based on their location and intent, were preparing to move on or fire into the city.  And as I said yesterday, regime troops must stop threatening their own citizens or continue -- or continuing doing that at their own peril. 

            The coalition also hit more command-and-control capabilities in and around Tripoli and launched 16 additional Tomahawks on pre-planned strikes against Scud garrisons in Tripoli and against more integrated air-defense systems down south in Sebha. 

            All told, we flew more than 153 missions since I briefed you yesterday, 96 of which were strike-related.  Slightly more than half of those strike missions were executed by U.S. pilots.  And like yesterday, all of the strictly no-fly zone missions were flown by pilots from our partner nations. 

            Next slide, please. 

            I'd like to wring this thought out a little more here on this slide, which shows you the sortie count over time since the operation began on Saturday.  The green bar represents the total, the blue bar represents the U.S. portion of that total, while the red bar signifies those missions flown by our coalition partners. 

            As you can see, the numbers of sorties have clearly gone up at a rapid rate, and that's to be expected.  But you can also see that the division of labor between the U.S. and our partners has largely evened out.  Obviously, there are some air missions, such as refueling, surveillance, information ops and jamming, for which we will continue to do the lion's share.  But overall, I think you are going to continue to see that red bar rising against the blue. 

            You can also see on this slide which countries have been added to the mix each day.  Yesterday we added Norway, and today we added Qatar.  Indeed, Qatari fighter pilots already flew their first mission this morning, accompanying French aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, and we look forward to having pilots from the United Arab Emirates on the flight schedule in the coming days. 

            Next slide, please. 

            This slide shows you the general situation thus far, and there has not been much of a change since yesterday.  Benghazi remains relatively calm and in opposition hands.  Ajdabiya city is still contested, and we assess that our strikes on regime forces around the city have had an effect, but the regime is still able and still determined to reinforce their positions there. 

            Regime troops are trying to do the same inside Misurata and Zintan, where they have maintained a presence and are still attacking opposition forces and innocent people.  Again, the coalition is working very hard to make it -- again, the coalition is working very hard to make it very hard for Colonel Gadhafi and his troops to kill their own citizens and destroy property.  But that is, as I described yesterday, a delicate mission. 

            We are charged under the U.N. mandate with protecting the people of Libya, so nothing we do must put them at greater risk than the risk they face at the hands of the Gadhafi regime. 

            We must focus on rather -- what we must focus on, rather, is limiting the regime's ability to inflict harm by squeezing it and denying it the tools to do so.  And we believe we are achieving some success in that regard. 

            Gadhafi has virtually no air defense left to him and a diminishing ability to command and sustain his forces on the ground. His air force cannot fly, his warships are staying in port, his ammunition stores are being destroyed, communication towers are being toppled, and his command bunkers are being rendered useless.   

            We received reports today that he has taken to arming what he calls volunteers to fight the opposition.  I'm not sure whether they truly are volunteers or not, and I don't know how many of these recruits are going -- he's going to get, but I find it interesting that he may now feel it necessary to seek civilian reinforcements.   

            Regardless, we will continue to apply pressure and we will continue to do the things necessary to accomplish the mission, the mission we have been assigned.  That mission will soon be transitioning to a coalition command structure led by NATO.  And I know there's been a fair amount of speculation about all that, so let me see if I can help put it into context. 

            There are three core tasks assigned to the coalition under the U.N. resolution:  enforce the arms embargo at sea, implement a no-fly zone, and protect the people of Libya.  And you could argue that the last task, civilian protection, is really the larger purpose of the resolution, but from a military perspective, we treat it as a distinct mission -- a distinct mission set requiring the use of air-to-ground attacks on regime forces, and also the regime force capabilities -- sustainment capabilities, since it is from these attacks that the civilian populace is most harmed. 

            At the outset of this operation, the United States assumed the lead for all three tasks, but the commander in chief made it clear that we would only remain in the lead until such time as our partners could take over. 

            And that process has now started.  Indeed, NATO has already assumed lead for the maritime embargo mission.  It is currently being commanded by Vice Admiral Veri of the Italian navy.  And last night, as you know, the -- NATO Secretary General Rasmussen announced that the alliance will assume command of the no-fly zone mission in a couple of days.  Details are still being worked out about whom from our alliance partners will command this particular mission, and that's a decision political leaders need to make. 

            So that leaves the third mission, the civilian protection mission.  This mission will remain in U.S. hands until such time as the coalition is ready to assume it.  My expectation is that it, too, could fall under NATO.  But again, these are decisions and discussions ongoing at the political level, and I just would not speculate right now about where it will end up. 

            Now, these are important issues and decisions not easily made, but I think I can help break down the process for you.  In fact, I think it's really important for people to understand the general direction this transition will be taking. 

            Next slide, please. 

            So that is -- I want to break down the three core missions and the sequencing over time, as different -- as the acceptance of the command and the preparedness and readiness to assume the command is going to take place at different times. 

            On the left are the arms embargo, the no-fly zone and the ability -- and the protect the civilian mission.  Those are the missions that we have been assigned by the United Nations.  When this opened up on 19 March, the U.S. was in lead in JTF, Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, for all three missions.  On the 23rd of March, NATO accepted the arms embargo mission and the U.S. was still in command of the Odyssey Dawn for both no-fly zone and protect the civilians. 

            On the 24th of March, NATO assumed the mission.  So they are in command -- once again, clearly commanded by a three-star Italian admiral.  And NATO also last evening accepted the no-fly zone mission, and we will continue to command today the Odyssey Dawn.  In the future, NATO will continue to command the arms embargo. 

            When they are ready to command, meaning the command-and-control architecture is in place, the hardware is in place, the people are in place and they say we are ready to command the mission, NATO will assume the no-fly zone mission.  And we will see, I think, shortly in the coming days where the protect the civilian mission will proceed. 

            Slide, please. 

            How does that affect participation over time for U.S. forces?  On the left part of the slide, I've broken down the types of aircraft and ships that are doing the missions, as well as the key part of the support and command and control and the support staff.  Ships and airplanes need a staff to tell them where to go and to command them. 

            Logistics and tanker support, surveillance, the ships, no-fly zone aircraft -- and when I mean no-fly zone aircraft, those are aircraft that are assigned only to fly in air-to-air missions, to enforce the air-to-air mission and the no-fly zone. 

            And finally, there's the civilian protection mission, which is an interdiction mission that will involve expending of ordnance.  And then, of course, the subordinate command and control and support staff, a key element. 

            When this opened up, you can see how we rated.  These are in very general terms to show the magnitude of change, but everything was pretty high with the exception of the ships for the embargo mission. Nothing changed through 23 March, with the exception of the no-fly zone aircraft.  We really reduced our number of airplanes that were just doing the air-to-air mission, the U.S. did.  And on the 24th of March, you saw that we had no aircraft assigned to do pure air-to-air missions.  Everything was dual-roled to be able to also expend ordnance. 

            In the future, you'll see, depending on capacity of the coalition forces, in order to do both logistics and surveillance, how much capacity they are going to need in order to do the mission, we're going to have to make up that mission, so it will be high to medium in that -- with that regard. 

            Our ships will continue to be low at that time.  We will support the no-fly zone area.  And both civilian protection aircraft will be low, and the subordinate command and control and support staff will be low because we've turned that mission over to the NATO nations.   

            So that is what we know right now, and that is what we're tracking towards. 

            Whichever way the third mission goes, whoever ends up taking it over, I can assure you that we will continue to support our allies and partners with our unique capabilities and that we will continue to work hard to make sure that transition is seamless.  Job one is to protect the Libyan people, and the job doesn't change just because we get a new boss. 

            And I'll now take your questions.

            CAPT. JOHN KIRBY (Special Assistant for Public Affairs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff):   Bob?

            Q:  Admiral, Bob Burns from AP.  A question connected to your chart there on participation, U.S. participation -- showed that in the case of both the interdiction mission and the ships that the U.S. participation level has as of today gone down a notch in each case.  Does that mean that there are -- the U.S. ships and planes are expending less ordnance, or are there fewer ships and planes actually flying and sailing? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The -- it's really to show the level of effort for the ships assigned and the effort that they are projecting to them. 

            Q:  It's not fewer ships? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  At this particular point, not fewer ships, but the level of effort will go down as well.  And then the number of ships will go down. 

            Q:  When will that start? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Difficult to predict over time, sir, and that's a function of how quickly the coalition ramps up and becomes effective. What we don't want to lose is mission effectiveness.  We don't want to put mission at risk, and we don't want to put people at risk as we make this -- as we sequence this transition. 

            Q:  What about in the case of aircraft?  Have you begun reducing the number of aircraft that are actually present? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Not reducing the number of aircraft present, but we might be reducing the number of aircraft that we are assigning to a particular mission.  And that number will -- that number will be reassigned over time.  But the key thing's we don't want to put -- 

            Q:  That number will go down? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Yes, sir.  But we don't want to put the mission at risk and risk to personnel. 

            Q:  Admiral, you said that the mission of protecting the civilian citizens could fall under NATO.  Does that mean it could remain the U.S.? And if so, would the U.S. remain in the lead of that mission -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Sir, I think it's pretty clear from the commander in chief that we're going to transition this mission over to the coalition. 

            Q:  Or it could fall under -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  It could fall under NATO; there are discussions that it could be NATO.  That's a political decision that's ongoing, and we'll see. 

            Q:  It could fall to individual countries besides the U.S. and not under NATO, necessarily, because of all the confusion. 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  It could.  I'm not going to rule out any of those probabilities. 

            Q:  Sir, could you talk a little bit about the composition of the Libyan forces going after civilians?  Roughly is it at 80 to 90 percent of his active units, or maybe half?  And what role is the 32nd and 9th brigades, his more elite units, having?  Are they taking the lead in most of the attacks? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not able to discuss that sensitive level of intelligence at this time. 

            Q:  Can I ask a follow-up that's less sensitive?   

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Yes, sir. 

            Q:  You've talked about unique capabilities a number of times. The taxpayers of this country are spending billions of dollars for these unique capabilities.  Could you give us a sense of some of the things that will be flying or are flying in the air now, besides tankers, that everybody knows about? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Okay.  The Global Hawk for persistent surveillance, unmanned, high-altitude, really low earth orbit.  Very, very capable platform.  Surveillance platforms.  JSTARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System], which helps us detect mechanized forces that move. 

            Okay.  Of course, AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System], airborne early warning, NATO has a significant number of those, so -- but we are providing that capability as well. 

            We may have to meet that capacity level if that's out there. 

            The tactical jammers, EA-18 Growler, that -- we have five from the Navy, land based -- that are providing that electronic-attack capability as well as a kinetic attack with the high-speed anti-radiation missile. 

            We have maritime patrol aircraft, P-3s, and variants of those P-3s that give us better -- I'm trying to -- 

            Q:  Images on the ground? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Not necessarily images, but it's the electronic emissions that are out there that allow us to get a better handle, better understanding of the electronic order of battle.  And also we have U.S. Air Force platforms that do the same sort of thing. 

            Q:  Is there a joint -- (off mic)? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We have a joint as well, yes sir. 

            Q:  Compass Call -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Compass Call and Commando Solo are helping us provide the messaging techniques that are out there, the message both in Arabic, in English, transmitting those messages in both languages, yes, sir. 

            Yes, sir. 

            Q:  Admiral, Ken Dilanian from the L.A. Times.  Is the U.S. and the coalition continuing to reach out to regime military leaders to urge them to defect?  And has there been any success in that?  Have you convinced anybody? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  That's a key element of our -- I won't necessarily say "defect."  What we're asking them to do is to remain in place, to not attack their people, don't follow the orders of the regime.  And very clear that they're acting against the will of the -- of the United Nations that are out there. 

            Okay. 

            Q:  (Off mic) -- has anyone agreed to do that? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Assessing the effectiveness of your messaging is a very difficult challenge. 

            You all are really the pros at that, that are sitting out there. 

            We have not seen the -- we have not seen that effect take place yet.  But I will tell you when we look at targeting, whether it's in messaging or kinetic, what we call the periodicity between action and effect is difficult to measure and predict when that effect will take place.  And we have not yet seen it.  We have mechanisms in place.  We are looking for it.  But we haven't seen it yet. 

            Q:  Can you spell "periodicity"? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  I'll let you do it, sir. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Eric. 

            Q:  Eric Schmidt with The New York Times, Admiral. 

            You mentioned in your statement that the attacks so far have diminished Colonel Gadhafi's ability to command and control his forces on the ground.  Can you elaborate on that a little bit and talk about what effect that may have in the coming days? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Any time that we can cause -- cut off communications between leadership and the forces in the field, or create confusion between leadership and the forces in the field, we're seeking to do that.  You can do that many different ways.  You can do it kinetically and you can do it with electronic measures, and we're using every tool in our toolbox to do that. 

            Q:  What proportion of the forces out there, the ground forces that Libya has, is now effectively cut off from their -- from leadership control in Tripoli? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We don't look at counting numbers.  What we're looking for is the effect.  So what we -- what we are -- you know, we don't want to go out and count tanks, the number of tank turrets that we see knocked off of tanks.  What we want to see is the kinetic and non-kinetic fires that we are putting out, is it showing a change in the behavior of the regime forces?  And at this particular point, we're not seeing that change take place yet. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  David. 

            Q:  What does "low" represent in some kind of number?  If "medium" in the civilian protection mission says today more than 50  percent U.S., does that mean that "low" will be something like more than 25 percent? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We were trying to apply an objective measure to a subjective situation right now.  In the coming days, we'll be able to give you those hard numbers.  At this time, we are trying to portray what the level of effort phased over -- sequenced over time will be, sir. 

            Q:  You also said that, I think, Qatari -- was it Qatari jets accompanied French jets on -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  That's correct. 

            Q:  What does "accompany" mean?  Were they flying a no-fly patrol, or? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  It was a -- it was four aircraft, two French and two Qatari.  And that's what we call a division. 

            Q:  They were basically serving as -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  No, sir.  They were enforcing the air-to-air part of the no-fly zone mission.  They went up as a -- as a division or a four-ship of aircraft.  They briefed together.  They were on the air-tasking order together.  They briefed together.  They flew it as a coalition force.  They came back and they debriefed it together. 

            Q:  Admiral, can you confirm reports that the United States is using depleted uranium in some of the munitions? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The ordnance to date that I'm -- that we have out there is predominately, almost exclusively, precision-guided ordnance: Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles; laser-guided weapons, which are Mark 80 series bombs, general purpose bombs; and joint direct attack munition, which are also Mark 80 series general purpose bombs.  Both of those types have precision munitions kits.  At this time, I'm not aware of any use of any depleted uranium. 

            Q:  This is Tejinder Singh from AHN Media. 

            Can you please define this protect civilians mission?  Because this (inaudible) -- there is a feeling, because there is a lot of confusion about the definition at the NATO headquarters. 

            And so if you -- and are you recommending boots on the ground? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We do not have -- I'll answer your last one first, sir.  We do have the authorities to go boots on the ground.  When we talked to civilians -- 

            Q:  Are you recommending? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  No, sir.  We're not recommending to do that. 

            When it comes to the civilian protection mission, it's the interdiction mission.  It's the missions that involve kinetic activity against the regime forces outside the cities to target their command and control, their logistics, the forces themselves.  That's the civilian protection mission that we're talking about. 

            Q:  Admiral, now that officials have had about four days to debrief the pilot and the weapons officer and examine some of the communications and electronic readouts from the plane before it went down, what else have you learned about the crash of the F-15? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We're confident that it is not a result of hostile fire.  Whether it is an aircraft malfunction or an air crew -- or an air crew error is a function for the investigation, mishap investigation to perform.  And we don't comment on that until the mishap report reports out. 

            Q:  Admiral, given the limits of your rules of engagement -- you can't attack in the cities -- are you starting to run out of targets that you can attack that will actually affect Colonel Gadhafi's forces? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  No, sir.  I think as we bring in more surveillance aircraft and we get a better picture of the ground order of battle, our ability to go after Gadhafi's forces in the field will improve. 

            Q:  But can I just follow up on that?  How do you stop Gadhafi's forces from attacking if they're in their cities?   

            ADM. GORTNEY:  You cut off their supply line.  You cut -- if they're at the forward end of the fight and you cut off their ability to sustain that fight, you've significantly impacted not only their ability to fight but the will to fight.   

            Q:  Admiral, NATO is saying it will take command of the no-fly zone effort in a couple of days.  Will there then be, in effect, a split command, with Africa Command handling the other part of it and NATO handling one?  How would that work? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The details of the wiring diagram are still being worked out on that.  But I was taught in all the -- I was taught to command, and in my command I was taught that an effective command possesses three things: unity of purpose, unity of effort and unity of effect.  And I don't predict any degradation in purpose of -- purpose, effort or effect as we transition command out of U.S. leadership. 

            Q:  Even though there will be two separate operations, it sounds like -- (inaudible) --.

            ADM. GORTNEY:  They'll all have unity of purpose, effort and effect.  The application, the scheduling and the -- I want to say the tactical control of how airplanes, you know, go there and come back is not going to change.  It'll all still be handled on one of the air tasking orders that is out there. 

            Q:  Would those be generated by the air component of African Command -- 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  It'll be generated by the -- by -- out of the same -- by the JFACC -- the Joint Air Component Commander -- Joint Force Air Component Commander, wherever that location is going to end up being. 

            Q:  But not the present one?  Not the current one, though? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  No, it may be the current one.  It may be someplace else, sir. 

            Q:  Admiral, what would be the trigger for U.S. aircraft, for the numbers conducting strike sorties to be reduced?  You said yesterday -- you left the door open that it might be a couple of weeks before we see a drop-off or a -- or a slope, downward slope.  What would be the trigger for the U.S. to start decreasing the numbers to get to low? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not going to be able to speculate on future operations on that.  Clearly, it would be on order.  Oh, I am going to speculate.  It could be on order.  It could also be a significant change on the ground that generated the requirement would not go down. It could also be the fact that the coalition has sufficient missions, sufficient aircraft -- and this is the most likely -- sufficient aircraft to perform the mission without the U.S. being there. 

            Q:  So it won't be strictly conditions-based on the ground based on what you're seeing down there? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  No. 

            Q:  Admiral, you said that the Libyans have virtually no air defense system left.  And even though you say that the ground forces still have some capabilities and are still fighting, how would you rate their capabilities at this point? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The integrated air defense system? 

            Q:  No, no, the ground forces.  I'm sorry.  Not the air defenses; they have virtually no air defense.  And you say, well, ground forces are still fighting.  I'm still wondering, how would you rate their capabilities, even though they're still fighting in these pockets? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Their ability to command and control and effectively employ their air defense is almost nonexistent.  They still have tactical, mobile surface-to-air missiles, which still are a threat. 

            We have seen a degradation in their ability to command and control their forces as a result of the fires that we're putting out there, but we haven't seen it take a large enough effect that it's changing the total effect on the battlefield. 

            Q:  So they still remain a serious ground threat. 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Yes, sir, I do believe so. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Ma'am, in the back? 

            Q:  When will we start to see some damage assessment reports and any video be released, like gun-camera video of some of these airstrikes that are taking place? 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  We'll work on that. 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  We'll work on that.  It's not malice of foresight.  We can easily be able to produce that for you. 

            Q:  Sir, people listening to you over the last couple days in your pretty candid assessments of the limitations of air power to go into the -- to go into cities are going to wonder:  The combined might of the United States and NATO, all the billions of dollars spent on aircraft, what are some of the limitations?  If you could just give a layman's explanation of why you can't go in there because of collateral damage concerns.  Lots of money spent.  There are sensors.  Just a basic question why not and the limits of air power without ground forces is kind of coming to the fore here. 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The difficulty in an urban environment -- well, the difficulty in identifying friend from foe anywhere is always a difficult challenge.  The ability to identify friend from foe inside an urban environment is magnified significantly.  And so what we do not want to do is create civilian casualties.  The last thing we want to do is put the Libyan people at greater risk than the current -- by our actions than already what -- by already the actions being taken by the Gadhafi regime. 

            Q:  Is there any sense you can use other airplanes, like AC-130Us or helicopters or drones, that aren't fast-flying airplanes, to maybe look over the cities? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  Those are all weapons in our tool box that are being considered. 

            Q:  Admiral, we've been told that some of the opposition leaders currently in Libya will be invited -- not to take part but at least attend the Libyan conference or summit or whatever it's being called, in London -- in an effort to provide them some legitimacy. 

            How does that square then with the claims that this military mission is not in support of the rebels? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm here to talk about the strictly military mission at this particular point.  The rest of that, I'm not able to -- I'm not able to discuss. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  We have time for just one more. 

            David. 

            Q:  Just to be clear on this chain of command, when NATO assumes no-fly zone, Admiral Stavridis will be in command, overall command, of the no-fly zone operation and General Ham will remain in control of the protect civilians operation, correct? 

            ADM. GORTNEY:  The specifics of how that chain of command will work out, I'm not -- we're not ready to brief yet.  As soon as we have it, we'll be able to brief it to you, sir. 

            CAPT. KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.

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