The last four of Norway’s six F-16 jets used for ground attacks in Libya returned yesterday after four months in action.
“We are among the few NATO countries that have their planes for domestic preparedness. Norwegian aircraft are in the air to enforce Norwegian sovereignty over large ocean areas in the north. Most other NATO countries do not use planes active in peacetime. We do”, said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to NRK.
Six F-16s from the Royal Norwegian Air Force were officially deployed in March, based at Souda Bay on Crete. Two aircraft returned to Norway in June, marking three months of Norway’s involvement in the NATO-led operation to support the Libyan rebellion against Colonel Gaddafi.
Norwegian pilots flew 583 sorties and dropped 569 bombs. Although Norway will no longer contribute directly to air operations over Libya, ten Norwegian officers will remain in the NATO air command centre in Italy.
Political infighting within Norway’s coalition government has been a constant feature of Norway’s deployment. The Socialist Left (SV) party initially opposed the deployment of the jets, later calling for their withdrawal.. The early return of two jets was a concession by majority Party Labour (Ap) in the tri-partite coalition. Party spokesman Bård Vegar Solhjell described this as a “decent compromise.”
More questions were raised as Norwegians became frustrated at what was perceived to be unnecessary secrecy by the military. Critics claimed that the Royal Norwegian Air Force was not revealing enough information about its operations over Libya, which prompted a change of tactics by the Ministry of Defence.
The UK has compensated for Norway’s withdrawal, sending an extra four Panavia Tornado GR.4 ground-attack jets to replace the F-16s.
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