Norway withdraws F-16s from Libya

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Norway’s remaining four F-16s assigned to NATO operations over Libya have returned home, as the Nordic country ends its role in Operation Unified Protector.

The F-16s returned to their bases in Bodoe and Oerland on Monday after flying nearly 600 missions, out of a total of 6 493 flown by NATO since March 31, dropping 569 bombs and amassing approximately 2 000 flight hours over four months, according to military spokesman Petter Lindqvist.

Although the aircraft have been withdrawn, ten Norwegian staff officers will continue to be involved in operations at the Libya air command centre in Italy. The F-16 crewmembers will first travel to Denmark for debriefings before returning to Norway.

Originally, Norway had six F-16s engaged in operations over Libya but withdrew two on June 24 as part of an agreement to bring back all F-16s on the first of this month.

On June 10, the centre-left government announced it would slowly withdraw its F-16s based at Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete, saying that Norway’s small air force could not sustain a large contribution for a long period of time.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that Norway “is among few NATO countries that needs its planes for national preparedness” during peace time “in order to maintain Norwegian sovereignty in large sea areas in the north.”
“We appreciate and respect the decisions of all contributing nations to provide what they can to the mission,” a NATO official said. “Norway has done a great deal but, at the end of the day, the mission continues.”
“When we now withdraw, it is with the knowledge that we have contributed to a strong reduction in Gaddafi’s military capacity,” said Defence Minister Grete Faremo.

Yesterday Unified Protector spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie thanked the Norwegians for their ‘excellent’ contribution. “They were with us for an initial mandate of 90 days. That mandate had been extended, so they were with us for four months. They did a fantastic job. They conducted a total of 596 missions, making a significant contribution to our mission. Especially if we consider the size of the Norwegian air force,” he said.

Although Norway has withdrawn its fighters, the UK recently sent another four Tornados to the region, filling the gap created by the F-16s’ departure. NATO has around 250 aircraft under the command of Unified Protector.

Out of NATO’s 28 member states, only eight have flown combat missions over Libya since it took over command from the United States on March 31. These include the UK, France, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and the United States. Norway became the first NATO country to set an end-date for its participation in the NATO mission.