August 2, 2011 (by Asif Shamim) - Norwegian F-16s that were assigned to operations over Libya returned home to Bodø on Monday, effectively ending Norway's participation in the NATO mission.
RNoAF F-16AM #678 is seen before take off from Souda AB during Operation Unified Protector on May 13th, 2011. [RNoAF photo]
Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the RNoAF
F-16s flew 596 of the 6,125 NATO
missions flown so far, dropping 542 bombs and clocking up around 2,000 hours of flight time over the four month period.
When operations originally started Norway
committed six jets, reducing the number to four on June 24 at the end of an initial three-month commitment period. At its height, around 120 Norwegians would have been involved in the various aspects of the mission. While the planes have returned, the crews will initially travel to Denmark
for debriefings before finally coming home.
On June 10, the centre-left government, split over Norway's prolonged participation in the bombing, announced it would gradually withdraw its six F-16 fighter jets stationed at the Souda Air Base on the Greek island of Crete.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg explained the reason why the decision to withdraw the jets was made, and said Norway is amongst a few NATO countries that requires its jets in order to maintain Norwegian sovereignty across large sea areas in the North.
Defense Minister Grete Faremo from the Labour Party told news agency NTB that she remained convinced about the merits of the mission, stating that "when we now withdraw, it is with the knowledge that we have contributed to a strong reduction in Gadhafi’s military capacity."
Nato officials say Norway's departure will not affect the tempo of air operations, which have averaged more than 100 sorties per day including around 50 missions aimed at hitting targets.