Swedish house backs Libya involvement
The Swedish government can count on the broad support in parliament to send Jas Gripen aircraft to assist the UN-backed Libyan operation, with only the Sweden Democrats expressing a dissenting opinion.
The last Swedish fighter aircraft saw action was almost 50 years ago.
It is reported that NATO may soon approach Sweden with to participate in the international effort against the Libyan regime. The defence alliance however spent the day discussing which nation was best equipped to lead the operation.
"We must wait and see what NATO is up to. This is of significance," foreign minister Carl Bildt said.
If NATO is unable to agree Bildt has not ruled out Sweden being able to take part in an operation led by a group of countries, including France, the United States and Britain, although Sweden would be in unfamiliar position.
The first few days of the air operation against the rule of Muammar Qaddafi have been led by a coalition led by France, Britain and the US. France and Turkey are said to be opposed to NATO taking over the operation.
For Sweden it would be easier to take part within a NATO-led effort, despite not being a formal member of the alliance as the military is familiar with procedures following previous cooperation.
Swedish participation would require a swift decision in parliament and according to a review of the positions of parliamentary parties, a government proposition would receive the broad support of the Riksdag.
The Social Democrats have expressed their firm support for a Swedish contribution to the operation.
"For me, it is irrelevant if the request comes from France, the United Nations or from NATO. The UN has called for the mission," said the party's foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin.
Left Party leader Lars Ohly said that he was cautiously positive to sending the Jas Gripen fighter into combat.
The Sweden Democrats, who currently hold 19 votes in parliament, expressed their opposition to a Swedish contribution to the military effort preferring instead to spend the money on measures to address a feared refugee crisis.
The last time Swedish fighter aircraft participated in battle was almost 50 years ago, when J 29 "Flying Barrel" planes fought in the Congo in the early 60's.
The Swedish Armed Forces have informed the government that it can send up to eight Jas Gripen planes to Libya.
The aircraft form part of the Nordic battle group, the most well-trained air force unit in Sweden, and fully compatible with NATO.
According to Anders Silwer at the armed forces the unit could be deployed to the combat zone - for example at air bases in Sicily and Crete - "days" after a political decision.
Swedish Gripen fighters on Libya standby
The Swedish military said Monday that they would be ready to deploy Jas Gripen fighter aircraft within ten days, should Sweden be asked to participate in the military action against Libya.
“The armed forces have informed the government that we are able to deploy six to eight aircraft. At the moment they are on a ten day standby, so it wouldn’t take longer than that,” Therese Fagerstedt of the Swedish Armed Forces information department told news agency TT.
Where the aircraft would be stationed and how much ground crew would be needed is yet to be determined.
How long it would actually take for the unit to be deployed depends on the political decision making process.
Sources with insight into NATO have revealed to the Swedish Dagens Nyheter daily that Sweden will be asked to lend their support by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest.
The Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) and the Christian Democrats have criticised the stance of the foreign minister Carl Bildt and the government, who have opted to wait for the request rather than offer Swedish help.
Allan Widman of the Liberal Party would like the government to make available the ‘Expeditionary Air Wings’, an eight plane strong flying unit, which is part of the Nordic Battle Group.
“I think we need to send the message that we can and wish to participate,” he told DN.
The foreign minister Carl Bildt does not however share the view of his government coalition colleague.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Bildt said that Sweden should wait to offer military assistance until requested.
However, if NATO was to approach Sweden, Bildt did not rule out possible military participation.
“All alternatives are still on the table. In the case of a request we will look at all the different ways that Sweden can contribute,” he said.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Stefan Ring, an expert on military strategy from the Swedish National Defense College (Försvarshögskolan), there is a need of further air power in the Libya operations.
“France have deployed about a hundred planes, which may sound like a lot. But compared to the air attacks on Kosovo and Serbia there are very few aircraft in action. Back then there were 700-800 aircraft per day,” he told TT.
On Monday Carl Bildt heads to Brussels to meet with foreign ministers from other EU member states.
On his personal blog "Alla Dessa Dagar" (literally: All These Days) he wrote on Sunday that the situation in Libya is certain to be high on the agenda.
“Sweden will support the resolution in the way and with the resources that we are best suited to,“ Bildt wrote.
At the moment, he pointed out, the military action is the main focus, but there is more to the resolution than that and a role for Sweden in the operations is by no means certain.