HELSINKI — The accidental release of a Danish Defense Forces’ (DDF) report critical of NATO’s command structures and inability to direct bombing missions in Libya in 2011 has provoked political controversy, after it emerged the Danish Air Force bought munitions from Israel.
The Defence Forces has confirmed it will revamp its information-handling systems after a highly classified and confidential “Libya Mission” report was released Oct. 10 as a PDF file, in error, to the Danish media organization Politiken. Politiken had earlier filed a request under the country’s Freedom of Information Act for details about Danish operations as part of the NATO-led Operation Unified Protector.
“The report is both embarrassing and revealing on several fronts,” said Holger Nielsen, defense spokesman for the Socialist People’s Party, one of three parties in Denmark’s ruling center-left administration. “The depth of the Danish military’s criticism of how NATO handled operations in Libya was not known to this extent, and that the Air Force bought munitions from Israel to bomb an Arab-world country was certainly not generally known by the government of the day.”
The Libya Mission report, produced by the Air Force’s Tactical Command (FTK) unit, criticizes NATO for being unable to provide reliable intelligence on targets or to conduct bombing raids. The lack of adequate intelligence and mission coordination by NATO forced the Air Force and other participants to curtail operations against key targets, according to the report. It also states that NATO was unable to provide accurate assessments of collateral damage inflicted on the civilian population, forcing the Air Force to curb the number and scale of its missions.
“NATO’s command structure was not organized to lead an operation such as Operation Unified Protector when operations in Libya started,” the FTK report claims.
The report notes that the Air Force’s squadron of F-16 fighters had operated under U.S. command in the lead-in phase of the Libya campaign, but came under NATO’s command in April 2011. The change greatly reduced the quality and effectiveness of mission planning and execution.
“Unlike the U.S., NATO did not have adequate access to tactical intelligence to support the operation,” the report states.
Libya will be a learning experience for NATO on how to better manage missions requiring a high level of intelligence gathering and multiforce coordination, Danish defense analyst Sten Rynning said.
“The main lesson to be learned by NATO is its need to employ its own intelligence-gathering systems to ensure the success of missions like Libya, which was largely run without the United States,” Rynning said. “Until it does, NATO’s mission command capability will be limited.”
The shortcomings identified in the Danish report will be addressed as part of NATO’s Smart Defense project and redesigned command structure, NATO spokesman Jonas Torp said.
“Issues we plan to deal with include the stockpiling of sufficient precision munitions by partner nations,” he said. “We will strengthen the capacity of the Sigonella military base in Italy to beef up reconnaissance and surveillance. To this end, we are investing in a fleet of five unarmed drones under the Alliance Ground Surveillance, or AGS project. The new measures will also include an enhanced focus on airborne warning and control systems and the European air refueling project.”
The NATO-European Union cooperation project includes sharing existing aircraft assets, or acquisition of new planes to boost aerial refueling capability by 2020.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Oct. 24 that the alliance welcomed the report’s critical insights.
“Within the ongoing reform of our command structure, we have already taken steps to strengthen our air operations command,” he said.
Rasmussen conceded that without U.S. intelligence-gathering systems, NATO would not have been able to complete its mission in Libya. But he described the final outcome of Unified Protector as a “great success.”
Bombs From Israel
Denmark’s defense chief, Gen. Peter Bertram, defended the decision to buy precision bombs from Israel. The Air Force’s own stockpile of weapons had been quickly depleted after weeks of air strikes, he said.
The Air Force attempted to buy munitions from NATO allies, but no NATO country was in a position to supply. Deliveries were then negotiated with Israel.
“It is not the task of the military to carry out foreign policy,” he said. “What we do with other countries is approved at the political level. A fighter is not just a fighter. There are different configurations. And not all countries have precisely the type of ammunition relevant to Danish aircraft.”
Former Defense Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech denied any knowledge of the purchase.
“I was very aware that the Danish F-16 squadron lacked munitions, and I gave the green light to acquire munitions from the Netherlands and Poland, but I never heard anything about Israel in that connection. Nothing at all,” Bech said.