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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 Chiefs of Staff
March 28, 2011

[Go to http://www.defense.gov/news/d20110328slides1.pdf to view briefing slides associated with this transcript. For purposes of specificity on the slide titled "Operation Odyssey Dawn", Belgian F-16s attacked separate ground targets in the vicinity of Mizdah in support of enforcement of the no-fly zone.]

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for being here today.  Let me start today with a snapshot of the situation on the ground in Libya.  Slide, please.

                 Here's how things looked on Friday.  Regime forces were outside Ajdabiya, and the city was very much contested.  As I briefed you then, the regime was still able to reinforce their positions there. There was also -- they was still inside Misurata and Zintan and showing no sign of relenting.

                 Next slide, please.

                 Here's what things look like today.  We now assess that opposition forces are in control of Ajdabiya and have pushed west to within 80 miles of Sirte.  We believe the regime is preparing to dig in at Sirte, setting up a number of checkpoints and placing tanks    throughout the city; likewise for Zintan, where we assess the regime is preparing to reinforce existing positions.

                 Reporting from Misurata indicates heavy fighting, particularly near the city center.  So not too much of a change since I last briefed you.  Word has come in to us this morning that the regime is busing reporters out there today.  For what purpose, we do not know.

                 I'm comfortable telling you, however, that we still have not received a single confirmed report of civilian casualties caused by the coalition, and that we will continue to be just as precise as we can in keeping up the pressure on regime forces while protecting innocent civilians.  In fact, I'm quite confident that in and around Misurata, regardless of who is there to watch, we have been and we will be effective at hitting exactly what we're aiming at.

                 That's a good segue to my next slide.  I understand we've been keeping you updated with facts and figures over the weekend, so what I'll do here is just cover the last 24 hours.

                 As you can see, coalition strike aircraft continued to go after targets on the ground, most of which were targets of opportunity, such as the regime forces we hit near Misurata, Sirte and Ras Lanuf.

                 Six TLAM [Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile] cruise missiles were launched from sea last night against the headquarters facility of Gadhafi's 32nd Brigade.  This is one of Gadhafi's most loyal units and are also one of the most active in terms of attacking innocent people.  We're still awaiting a good assessments of those strikes.

                 We also struck some pre-planned targets around Tripoli and Sabha, mostly ammunition stores and bunkers, though we did take out an SA-6 mobile surface-to-air missile site in Tripoli as well.  I'm told, over the last 24 hours, the coalition has flown 178 sorties, the majority of which were strike related.  And just as I briefed you on Friday, our coalition partners continue to increase their participation.

                 Next slide, please.

                 Here's a laydown of the overall sortie count thus far.  The box at the right totals it all up since the beginning of Operation Odyssey Dawn.  The bar graph shows you our work over the weekend.  The green bar is the total sorties for each day.  The blue represents those flown by U.S. pilots, red by the coalition.  And as you can see, the numbers continue to rise across the board, but the labor share is definitely evening out.

                 I'd note for you the addition of pilots from Belgium, who are now helping us enforce the no-fly zone.  I'd also like to point out that the Qatari pilots have flown several no-fly zone missions since they arrived on station, and they were scheduled to fly another eight sorties today.  We also now have in the operating area 12 fighter aircraft from the United Arab Emirates.  We expect that their pilots will be joining the flight schedule in the next day or so.

                 Next slide, please.

                 Here you can see a breakdown of just the sorties that are devoted to air-to-ground missions, the protect-the-people missions.  Again, the numbers at right are totals for the entire operation.  From Friday to Sunday, there was an increase in strikes from 91 to 107, but the majority each day were flown by our partner-nation pilots.  I know it seems as though I'm trying to hammer home a point here, and I guess I am.  It's simply this:  U.S. military participation in this operation is, as we have said all along, changing to one primarily of support.  Indeed, one of our submarines, the USS Providence, has now moved on to previously assigned tasking, having completed all strike missions assigned to her.  And maybe we aren't flying the bulk of combat sorties anymore, but the U.S. is now providing nearly 80 percent of all air refueling, almost 75 percent of aerial surveillance hours and 100 percent of all electronic warfare missions.  In other words, we remain committed to the mission and to the mandate we've been told to enforce, but that commitment is very much shared by others, and now it's going to be led by others.

                 You all saw the announcement yesterday that NATO will assume command of the entire mission in the next few days, having already assumed command last week of the maritime embargo mission and this past weekend of the no-fly zone enforcement.  The details of exactly when and exactly how future command relationships will be established are still being discussed, and I'm just not able to lay much of that out for you, but we will as soon as we have it.  But I can tell you that we are all very comfortable there won't be any dropped balls in the handoff, and that everyone is working hard to ensure the tempo of operations is not disrupted nor the pressure on the regime lifted.

                 In short, it sort of comes back to my comments at the start.  The situation on the ground has been certainly changing, and it is changing.  But in the air, and the -- in the air, the coalition keeps flying; and at sea, we keep patrolling.  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, the effect if not the intention of western intervention in Libya with air power has been to help the rebels regain the initiative.  As your first map showed, they've gone on the offensive and moving westward.  I'm wondering if you intend to exploit that success by adding additional aircraft to the -- to the fight, like close air-support aircraft like the A-10?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, first off, we're not in direct support of the opposition.  It's not part of our mandate, sir.  And we're not coordinating with the opposition.  Our strategy continues to be to pressure him where we think it's going to give us the best effect.  We see that possibly occurring here, but given the events that you see on the battlefield.  And anytime that you do see an opportunity like that, good commanders in the field will try and exploit that opportunity.  And you see if we -- the number of the strike sorties that you saw, I think, is a direct result of that.

                 Q:  And the aircraft that I mentioned, are you having A-10s and AC-130s?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  We have employed A-10s and AC-130s over the weekend.  Yes, sir.

                 Q:  Can you say where and in what capacity and --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  No, I'm not able to tell you that at this time.

                 Q:  So it was Saturday and Sunday?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Yeah, it was over the weekend.  Yes, sir.

                 Q:  Hi, Mike Evans, London Times.

                 Can I ask -- you say you're not coordinating with the opposition. Presumably you're communicating with the opposition.  Otherwise would you --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  We have no mil-to-mil communications with the opposition.

                 Q:  Can you make absolutely sure that you're attacking regime forces rather than opposition forces?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, that is the challenge, the positive identification of the target.  That's why the discipline of the air crew from all of the coalition partners is absolutely critical.  Right now it appears that where we are striking, the opposition is not where we can make -- assist in that positive identification, identifying friend from foe.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Terry

                 Q:  Admiral, you talked about the allies overall taking the majority of the strike sorties.  Which countries are actually participating in strike sorties?  And does the U.S. still have the lion's share of any single nation, right?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:   Yes. As an example, if we could go to slide three, please, you'll see U.S., U.K., [sic; Denmark], Canada and Belgium in the last 24 hours.  

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Denmark?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  And Denmark, I'm sorry.  

                 Q:  Also on Friday you talked about how Gadhafi -- you have been diminishing the ability of Gadhafi to affect command and control over the fielded forces, but you hadn't yet seen any kind of reverse momentum on the ground.  What's the situation now?  Have you seen any change in that, the effects of that?  Are they setting in?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, I would say that the big shift that we saw from Friday to today is exactly the result of that.  Whether it's confusion, whether it's extending -- their supply lines are being over-extended, but we saw a pretty significant shift.  Go to slide one, to slide two -- slide one, please.  On the 25th, the regime forces over here, and this morning, about 60 nautical miles from Sirte, a pretty significant withdrawal on their part. 

 Q:  Sir, what's the difference between the kind of strikes you're describing and simply strikes that would destroy the Libyan military, period?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not sure what your question --

                 Q:  Well, in other words, you describe, for instance, the attack on the headquarters of the 32nd Brigade, these strikes against headquarters down in Mustafa.  There just seems to be a fairly thin line here between stopping assaults on civilians and simply taking out the Libyan military.

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Okay.  All right.  We're paying particular attention on the lines of communication, the command and control, the ability to resupply those forces that are being the most active against the attacks on the civilians.  So, what's the difference between this and, say, another conflict?  It's just the target -- the specific targets -- the target types are not different; it's where we're trying to go after them which is different.

                 Q:  So you're leaving significant capability?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I would say we're putting significant -- I would say we're not leaving significant fire power.  Any place that we can see ammunition storage facilities, things of that nature, that we're going after those as well.

                 Q:  So maybe it's easier to ask what you're not going after.

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, I'm having a hard time really understanding your question, sir.  I mean, once again, we're going after those forces --

                 Q:  It's the old line about mission creep.  Is it simply to relieve the pressure on civilians in these towns along the coast, or is it basically an all-out assault on Gadhafi's military to dismember it?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  No, I would definitely not say mission creep.  The objectives -- the targeting objectives from the very first, from the first strikes on the afternoon Eastern Standard Time on the 19th, remain the same.

                 Q:  Well, what would be something that isn't on the target list, some military --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm just going to stick to the targets that we're going after.

                 Q:  To follow up on David's question a little bit, and specifically about Sirte, slide three, I guess, showed American air attacks against Libyan maneuver forces at Sirte.

                 But by all accounts that we're getting out of Libya, there is no threat to civilians in Sirte.  It's Gadhafi's birthplace, apparently filled with Gadhafi supporters.  So what would be the threat to civilians that would be presented by Libyan military forces in Sirte?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  The military forces targeted around Sirte are command-and-control-related -- command and control, doing the command and control for the forces that are to the east of them.  So, once again, you want to focus on -- you want to create confusion at the front, go in after command and control at the rear and supply lines in between and ammunition facilities anywhere that we can find them.

                 Q:  And the only reason I ask is because on the chart, it says maneuver forces, not command-and-control facility.

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  OK.  Let me double check, make sure that we accurately captured that.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Tony?

                 Q:  Do you have any specifics on the number of ordnance dropped?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I do.  We're up to 199 TLAMs, seven from coalition, and a little over 600 precision-guided munitions, 455 from the U.S., 147 from the coalition.

                 Q:  On specific units, too, you mentioned the 32nd.  Can you give a sense of the level of destruction being meted out to that unit over these last few days?  And how are you quantifying it; tanks destroyed, or what?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  From the last 24, we don't have the bomb damage assessment from those last 24 hours.  And once again, we're not into -- as we do an assessment of the effects on the battlefield, we're not counting tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed.  That's not the effect we're -- that's not how we're going to measure the effect. What we want to measure the effect is, what is the -- what are those attacks doing to how the maneuver force and the command and control is being applied?

                 Q:  Is it your assessment that at this point on that specific brigades -- and since Gadhafi's son allegedly is running it -- reportedly is running it? 

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  We haven't seen the effect on the -- on the 32nd yet, but from the rest of the strikes, I think the results of where the -- where the battle has taken us over the weekend is a direct reflection of how our effects are being shown.

                 Q:  You're using the Warthog, the A-10, and then the AC-130Us, I guess.  Are those allowing you to attack Gadhafi's forces in the cities now --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not -- I'm not going to talk about specifically how any of the weapons systems are being employed.

                 Q:  Thanks.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Okay.  Jen, go ahead.

                 Q:  Yeah.  I'm trying to understand why we don't see any French planes part of the strike forces.

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  If you would -- on today's Air Tasking Order [ATO], there's quite a few French strike missions being flown.  It just happened in the last 24 hours.  There weren't any.

                 Q:  Okay.  And in Sirte, I'm trying to understand, if you have a situation where Gadhafi's forces are fighting against opposition forces, will coalition planes strike in the Sirte area?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not going to get into the hypothetical.  If there's -- if there's regime forces that are outside of Sirte and they're attached to the command and control, we'll most likely take them under attack.

                 Q:  And do you still have evidence that Gadhafi's son is in charge of the 32nd brigade?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I don't have any intelligence regarding Gadhafi's son at this time.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Jim?

                 Q:  Admiral, could I ask you to look at the command, the -- and specifically the transfer of command?  What is actually entailed with that?  Because when we transfer command from units in Iraq or Afghanistan, that's like a month-long process.  And we're doing -- and you seem to be doing this very quickly.  What exactly is entailed with shifting command to NATO?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, the specifics are still being worked out. The maritime embargo was fairly easy and straightforward.  They started taking on the no-fly zone mission, I believe it was Saturday morning; and we'll see them taking over the total mission, including the civilian protection mission, in the coming days.  Neither one of the -- or any of the commanders involved are anticipating any problems with that.  One of the benefits of transitioning to a NATO -- to NATO is, is we've been working with NATO for many years and we understand the command structure, we exercise together, we operate in Afghanistan together.  So that's why it's a pretty high confidence that we're not going to drop the ball on it.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Tom?

                 Q:  Sir, could you -- you mentioned there was fighting that's still pretty fierce in Misurata.  Can you characterize it?  Is it -- are Gadhafi's forces using tanks? 

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not going to characterize the type of fighting within the city.  Once again, we're focusing on that activity that's outside the city.

                 Q:  Could I follow up just quickly on Tony's question, too? Are there are any attacks that the coalition is mounting inside cities now?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I'm not going to specifically talk about where -- other than that, in and around the city.

                 Q:  Sir, aside from the Providence, do you have any indications about planes and ships next slated to leave Odyssey Dawn or other assets, the unique capabilities, so to speak, that are flowing in?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Yeah, as we are working on defining the command arrangements, we'll -- they're also working on those assets that are required, that NATO will need to be able to do that.  And those forces that aren't needed will be redeployed.

                 Q:  Admiral, to follow on that question, in addition to the sub that's no longer on station, can you tell us how many TLAM shooters are currently there on station?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  The number of TLAM shooters I don't have in any of my notes right here in front of me right now, but we can provide that.

                 CAPT KIRBY:  We can get that. 

                 Q:  Are there any details you can share with us about the humanitarian-aid dimension of this operation?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  AFRICOM [Africa Command] is heavily involved in planning for the humanitarian-assistance missions and doing that with our international partners and non-governmental agencies.

                 Q:  Thank you.  The Turkish prime minister said today that Turkey will take over the running of Benghazi for --  

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I've heard those reports, but the level of coordination between AFRICOM and Turkey, I'm not -- I'm not at liberty to discuss.

                 Q:  Do you think that Gadhafi's forces are digging in -- you said around Sirte and Zintan -- are they digging in in the cities, or are they digging in on the outskirts?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  I don't have those specifics for you. 

                 Q:  In an email published by the New York Times, General Ham said that he saw little evidence that very few of Gadhafi's forces were defecting, and that a lot of the gains that the rebels have made could be very temporary.

                 Is that your assessment?  What is your assessment from your --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, General Ham is the commander, and I'll defer to General Ham on his opinion.  Clearly the opposition is not well organized, and it is not a very robust organization.  I mean, that's obvious.  So any gain that they make is tenuous based on that.  I mean, it's -- clearly, they're achieving a benefit from the actions that we're taking.  We're not coordinated with it.  But I think General Ham's assessment is pretty good.

                 CAPT. KIRBY:  Jen?

                 Q:  Do you know who the opposition is, and does it matter to you?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  We're not talking with the opposition.  We have -- we would like a much better understanding of the opposition.  We don't have it.  So yes, it does matter to us, and we're trying to fill in those gaps, knowledge gaps.

                 Q:  Of the 983 sorties, do you know of a single instance where a single one of those aircraft came under fire from Gadhafi's forces?

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Last night, we have reporting of a -- what we think is a ballistic missile launch of maybe an SA-2 or an SA-3.  It was a pilot's in-flight report.  We're investigating that.  That's the only one that I'm aware of.

                 I will tell you, as a -- as an aviator, every time you're flying over hostile countries, you're assuming you're being shot at.  The triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery] -- there's a lot of aimed triple-As up there and unaimed triple-As and -- as well as a significant number in the thousands of MANPADs [man-portable air-defense systems], IR [infrared] missiles. Those are the threats, and they're looking for them.  And you have to assume that they're coming out there.  But of the reports, we only -- I only know of that one from last night.

                 Q:  Of the 983, only -- and not even a confirmed report yet. Don't you find that --

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Those are the ones that I'm aware of, of the mission reports and I'm not poring through the 983 mission reports anymore.

                 CAPT KIRBY:  We have time for just one more.

                 Yeah, Luis.

                 Q:  Admiral, I think by definition, the A-10 and the AC-130 are defined as combat-support aircraft.  Obviously, you're not in coordination with the ground forces, the opposition, but what -- these aircraft are clearly targeting Libyan -- Gadhafi's forces, maneuver brigades, I guess.  Is that the message, that with these aircraft we're going to take you out? 

                 ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, both those platforms are -- expend precision munitions.  So do F-16s, so do F-18s, so do Rafales.  They're precision munitions.  So it's really the -- it's not so much the platform as the weapon that's expending it.

                 So I don't call them combat support.  They're combat aircraft, and they deliver a precision effect.

                 CAPT KIRBY:  Thanks, everybody.