Air Force makes redaction blunder in Libya report

An under-prepared NATO and the use of Israeli weapons among the issues conveyed in a report sent by the Danish tactical command

The PR staff at the Danish Air Force Tactical Command (FTK) is likely working overtime after a confidential report concerning the 2011 NATO campaign in Libya obtained by Politiken newspaper revealed Danish criticism of NATO's intelligence capacities and FTK's decision to purchase precision-bomb munitions parts from Israel. But FTK's tremendous redaction blunder made when sending Politiken the report could have made things even worse.

FTK sent a PDF file in which large portions of the text were blacked out to protect classified material, but journalists at the newspaper removed the black-out themselves with a simple click of a button, revealing highly sensitive information about the Libya campaign.

Henrik Røboe Dam, major general at FTK, was quick to apologise for the embarrassing blunder, and forecasted a change to their redaction protocol.

“It was a mistake that it was so easy to expose the redaction. I’m not sure at this point how easy it was, but it happened and we have to alter our procedures in the future,” Dam told Politiken. “The procedure will be changed so that people won’t be able to circumvent our black-outs.”

But while Politiken chose not to reveal the classified parts of the report that were supposed to be redacted, the remainder of the document indicated that the NATO-run operation in Libya didn’t progress as smooth as conveyed by military officials at the time.

According to the report, the Air Force lacked credible intelligence about where and how bombing missions should be carried out, significantly reducing the number of Danish and NATO bombing campaigns targeting incumbent Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

In early March 2011, the UN Security Council successfully voted on UN Resolution 1973 allowing a no-fly zone in Libya in order to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi's forces. Ten countries – including the US, the UK and France – approved the resolution, while five nations – Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India – abstained from the vote.

Initially, Denmark operated under American leadership, but continued the Libya campaign under NATO leadership after 31 March 2011. NATO, as opposed to the Americans, did not have intelligence people on the ground to assist the pilots where to bomb.

NATO has admitted to the issue and is currently investing in new drones with which to survey enemy movements.

But despite the reduction of bombing missions due to the lacking intelligence, Danish F-16 jets were still active to the point that they ran out of ammunition and were forced to acquire munitions from the US and the Netherlands.

The ammunition deficiency problem eventually forced the Danish Air Force to seek precision-bomb munitions parts from Israel, a highly controversial move given that the NATO mission in Libya was backed by the Arab League, consisting of many member states have less than amicable political relations with Israel.

Ibrahim Sharqieh, the deputy director of the Brookings Institution's Qatar office, contended that the news could further hamper Denmark’s already languishing image in the Middle East.

“It’s highly peculiar that Denmark has acted in this manner. Everyone knows that Israel is a very sensitive subject in the Middle East and it seems completely foolish that they would use Israeli weapons during controversial bombing campaigns of an Arab country,” Sharqieh told Politiken.

But Peter Bartram, Denmark's Chief of Defence, maintained that the military was not in the habit of dictating foreign policy.

“A fighter jet is not just a fighter jet. There are various configurations and not all nations have the exact ammunition types that fit Danish planes,” Bartram told Politiken. “As a result, only a few select countries are relevant.”

Thus far, no Danish politician has admitted to knowing about the Danish planes using Israeli munitions and the defence minister at the time, Gitte Lillelund Bech (Venstre), said that while she gave the go-ahead to purchase or loan parts and ammunition from the Netherlands and Poland, she vehemently denied ever hearing anything about Israeli munitions.