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Operation Unified Protector
NATO Arms Embargo
NATO No-Fly Zone

Libya "has not been a very big war. If [the Europeans] would run out of these munitions this early in such a small operation, you have to wonder what kind of war they were planning on fighting," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank. "Maybe they were just planning on using their air force for air shows."

NATO Operation Unified Protector LogoThe NATO Operation to patrol the approaches to Libyan territorial waters to reduce the flow of arms, related material and mercenaries to Libya, which began officially on 23 March 2011, was named Operation Unified Protector. NATO was working closely with the International Maritime Organization to ensure that the flow of legitimate commercial and private shipping to Libya continues unimpeded.

Under Operation Unified Protector, NATO's Task Force of ships and aircraft would remain in international waters and would not enter Libyan territorial waters. NATO admitted it could not block all routes into the country, but had cut off the quickest, easiest and straightest route to Libya. NATO ships would use surveillance to verify the activity of shipping in the region, separating out legitimate commercial and private traffic from suspicious vessels. Suspicious traffic would be hailed by radio, and if they could not give satisfactory information about their cargoes, the NATO ships were authorized to intercept them. As a last resort, the Task Force was empowered to use force. If weapons or mercenaries were found, the vessel and its crew would be escorted to a secure port where international and national authorities would take charge. Suspected aircraft could be intercepted and escorted to an airport designated by NATO.


Map depicting NATO Operation Unified Protector Area of Operation

Standing NATO Naval Maritime Group 1 and a Standing NATO Naval Mine Countermeasures Group 1 provided the initial ships to enforce the embargo, but these were to be either replaced or augmented with other contributions from NATO members and coalition partners. As of 24 March, 10 NATO members (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States) had pledged more than 25 ships and submarines, as well as over 50 fighter jets and surveillance planes to monitor and enforce the arms embargo mandated by the UN. On 24 March 2011, NATO also agreed to take over command and control of the no-fly zone operations, though the transition was no immediate.

By 25 March 2011, Bulgaria and Romania had also offered a frigate each to the operation. The Operation Unified Protector command and control structure at that point originated at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. Allied Joint Forces Command Naples in Naples, Italy served as the operational command for Operation Unified Protector. The air component was controlled by Allied Air Command in Izmir, Turkey. The naval component was controlled by Allied Maritime Command in Naples, Italy.

On 31 March 2011, NATO formally integrated all remaining air operations pertaining to air operations over Libya under its command and control, with all of these operations becoming part of Operation Unified Protector. The air operations included enforcement of both the no-fly zone and operations to protect civilians.

Command overview of the Norwegian component under Operation Odyssey Dawn Command overview of the Norwegian component under Operation Unified Protector
Command overview of the Norwegian component under Operation Odyssey Dawn (Left) and Operation Unified Protector (Right)

The above organizational charts provide an example of the relative differences in the coalition chains of command under Operation Odyssey Dawn, and subsequently under Operation Unified Protector. They also provide a general example of the complexities of combined operations. The dotted line in both cases separates the Norwegian national chain of command for the operational command. In the Operation Odyssey Dawn Chart, the national chain of command is displayed on the right of the dotted, while on the Operation Unified Protector chart it is on the left. Command elements are organized horizontally with the highest being at the top and the lowest (the Norwegian operational component) being at the bottom. National and combined commands of a similar level of authority are aligned next to each other. Interaction between national and combined command elements is denoted by a solid line across the dotted line.

Also on 31 March 2011, it was reported that Bulgaria had formally decided to send the frigate Druzki (Daring) to the Mediterranean to participate in Operation Unified Protector for three months starting April 15. The warship would sail with a crew of 160, and have "special naval units," military police and English and Arab interpreters on board.

The Royal Navy submarine HMS Triumph returned to HM Naval Base Devonport from the Mediterranean on 2 April 2011, after supporting international efforts to protect civilians in Libya over the past two weeks. The frigate HMS Westminster had also left the area of operations.

On 5 April 2011, it was reported that NATO had launched an airstrike against military vehicles of the Libyan government heading toward rebel lines near the town of Brega. The attack reportedly destroyed 2 unidentified vehicles.

On 19 April 2011, the United Kingdom announced that it was sending military advisers to assist the rebel forces in Libya. Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the deployment of advisers was within the provisions of UN Security Resolution 1973, which expressly forbade a foreign occupation of Libya. On 20 April 2011, France and Italy also announced their intention to send similar advisory elements to Libya.

On 25 April 2011, it was reported that NATO had launched an airstrike against Moammar Gadhafi's compound in the Libyan Capital, Tripoli. The strike was reported to have destroyed at least one public building, used for ministerial gatherings and other meetings according to Libyan officials. Conflicting reports followed about the nature and total number of casualties, including possible civilian casualties, resulting from the strike. NATO said that it had received no independent verification of civilian casualties and that the building had been used as a communications headquarters to coordinate attacks against civilians.

On 27 April 2011, Italy announced that it was making 8 aircraft available for use in direct airstrikes against targets in Libya. The strike group would consist of 4 Tornado and 4 AV-8B Harrier aircraft. It was unclear whether these aircraft were in addition to the 4 Tornado ECR/IDS aircraft from 6o Stormo and 50o Stormo and the 4 AV-8B Harrier aircraft aboard the MM Giuseppe Garibaldi, which Italy had already available to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

In addition, NATO also reported on 27 April 2011, that an F-16 operating in support of Operation Unified Protector had been involved in an incident at Naval Air Station Sigonella. The nationality of the F-16 was not released, but the pilot was reported to have ejected successfully. The runways at Naval Air Station Sigonella were temporarily closed as a result. Reports later said that a total of 2 F-16 aircraft were involved, though only one pilot had ejected, and that both aircraft were from the United Arab Emirates.

In April 2011, reports had circulated that NATO had experienced a shortage of munitions for operations operations over Libya. France had been reported to be using 660 pound training bombs filled with concrete during operations. NATO had denied the reports of a munitions shortage and French officials stated that the use of the practice bombs was to lower the risk of collateral damage.

On 23 May 2011, reports indicated that the British and French militaries were preparing to deploy helicopter forces for a joint operation as part of their respective contributions to Operation Unified Protector. The French contingent, operating from the Tonnerre, a Mistral class force projection and command ship, would consist of approximately 12 Tiger and Gazelle helicopters from the French Army. The exact number of each type was initially unclear. The French contingent was also reported to include special operation forces. The British contingent was reported to include up to 6 Apache AH Mk 1 helicopters, operating from HMS Ocean. Three Apaches were already aboard the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, with another scheduled to joint the task force. Two additional aircraft would be available, but kept in reserve in the UK. The entire force, expected to arrive on station by the end of the week of 23 May 2011, would be directed at providing a buffer around Misurata from pro-Ghaddafi forces. British Army Apache crews had been conducting training missions from HMS Ocean in the preceding weeks, in what appeared to have been a run up to the deployment.

On 24 May 2011, UK Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey said that no decision had been made about the deployment of HMS Ocean and its embarked Apaches in support of Operation Ellamy. On 27 May 2011, the UK Ministry of Defense reported that Ministers had agreed in principle to make HMS Ocean and the four embarked Apaches available for operations over Libya.

On 31 May 2011, the Royal Air Force announced that it had delivered the first Enhanced Paveway III (EPWIII) 2,000 pound precision guided bombs to Gioia Del Colle in Southern Italy for use as part of Operation Ellamy. The bombs were expected to be used against hardened structures in Libya like command centres or communications nodes.

On 3 June 2011, the Royal Navy announced that it had dispatched 5 ships of the Response Force Task Group, which had been participating in the Cougar 2011 amphibious exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, to support operations protecting civilians in Libya. The 5 ships, HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Sutherland, RFA Wave Knight, and RFA Fort Rosalie, were to joined HMS Liverpool and HMS Brocklesby, as well as HMS Triumph, which returned to the region in May 2011, in support of Operation Ellamy.

On 4 June 2011, Apache gunships from 4 Regiment, 656 Squadron Army Air Corps launcehd from HMS Ocean performed their first mission. Fleet Air Arm Sea Kings and Lynx were also available for operations. HMS Albion also embarked a contingent of Royal Marine commandos. On 5 June 2011, Gazelle and Tiger helicopters from the French ship Tonnerre also began operations over Libya.

On 10 June 2011, Norway's Defense Minister Grete Faremo said Norway would soon scale back its contribution to Operation Unified Protector from 6 F-16 fighters to 4. It would also completely withdraw its forces by 1 August 2011. Faremo said the decision was based on the small size of Norway's Air Force and its inability to maintain a "large" jet fighter contribution for extended periods.

In the early hours of 19 June 2011, NATO aircraft launched an attack on military missile site in Tripoli. NATO later reported a possible weapon system failure after one of the bombs struck a nearby residential neighborhood killing a number of innocent civilians. NATO apologized for the attack and said that it regretted the loss of life and was taking great care to avoid such incidents.

On 20 June 2011, NATO aircraft launched a strike against a compound in Sorman, west of Tripoli. The compound, occupied by a close associate of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, was classified as a military command and control node by NATO forces. That the compound was involved in coordinating attacks on the Libyan people it was determined by NATO to be a legitimate target. NATO said it could not confirm reports of civilian casualties in the strike, which Libyan state media described as an attack on a residential building.

On 21 June 2011, NATO confirmed that it had lost contact with an unmanned aerial vehicle conducting intelligence-gathering and surveillance over Libya. The Libyan government had earlier claimed that it had shot down an attack helicopter belonging to the NATO-led force. Subsequent pictures and video, however, showed an aircraft that appeared to be an MQ-8B Fire Scout, a rotary winged unmanned aerial vehicle utilized by the US Navy, in line with the NATO response.

Norway formally closed its operations on Crete on 31 July 2011, with the main force departing as previously expected, on 1 August 2011. Norway flew its last combat mission over Libya on 30 July 2011. Norwegian aircraft had flown 583 sorties and dropped a total of 569 bombs.

On 21 September 2011, the Secretary General of NATO announced the extension of Operation Unified Protector, the mission to protect civilians in Libya, by another 90 days. The meant that NATO forces would continue their missions to enforce the embargo, enforce a No-Fly Zone and continue with the protection of the civilian population for that period.

Map showing Libya Frontlines as of March 2011 Map showing Libya Frontlines as of April 2011 Map showing Libya Frontlines as of May 2011
Map showing Libya Frontlines as of June 2011 Map showing Libya Frontlines as of July 2011 Map showing Libya Frontlines as of August 2011
Map showing Libya Frontlines as of September 2011 Map showing Libya Frontlines as of 22 September 2011

In a 22 September 2011 press briefing, Lieutenant General Bouchard, Commander Operation Unified Protector said that NATO was pleased to report that there were only 3 isolated areas where regime forces continued to impose their will: Sirte, Bani Walid and Al Fuqaha. Lieutenant Bouchard presented a series of 8 maps showing the front lines between pro-Gadhafi and NTC forces between March 2011 and September 2011.

On 27 October 2011, the UN Security Council voted to end its backing of international military action with regards to Libya. The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution ending the UN mandate and the no-fly zone that had been in place since March 2011. According to the resolution would come into force at 11:59 PM local time in Libya on 31 October 2011.

At midnight Libyan time on 31 October 2011, a NATO E-3A Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft (AWACS) aircraft conlcuded the last flight of Operation Unified Protector. With this final sortie Operation Unified Protector effectively came to an end. NATO subsequently announced that on 1 November 2011, all NATO AWACS would return to their home airbase in Geilenkirchen, Germany. All other aircraft, ships, and submarines that contributed to the mission would return home and revert back to their respective national commands. During Operation Unified Protector, NATO conducted over 26,500 sorties, including over 9,700 strike sorties over Libya.




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