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Libya: What do the military operation names mean?

A pilot
Image caption Many nations are co-operating in the operations

Operation ELLAMY is the name given to UK military action in Libya, while the US, Canada and France all have their own monikers. But what do they mean?

With a coalition of international Allies, backed by Nato, carrying out air strikes to enforce a no-fly zone and other objectives in Libya, the eyes of the world are on them - and their operation names.

The Americans are using Operation Odyssey Dawn, while the French have gone for Operation Harmattan. The British have opted for Operation ELLAMY and it's Operation MOBILE in Canada. The latter countries are using capital letters.

Both the UK and US military say the names they have chosen are meaningless.

Canada has chosen a name that begins with "M" because the operation is being conducted in part in the Mediterranean. The name also has to work in English and French, as it's a bilingual country.

Harmattan, selected by the French, is the name for a dry and dusty West African wind.

A UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokeswoman says ELLAMY has been randomly generated by a computer programme. It's how all military operations are named and it's done this way so the name doesn't relate in any way to the action.

"That is so you cannot gain any insight into what is going on or being planned," says Tim Ripley, defence and security analyst with Jane's Defence Weekly.

Operations are named for quick and easy identification and communication. For example, to repeatedly refer to Operation ELLAMY as "the operation to prevent government forces in Libya from carrying out air attacks" would be "wordy and cumbersome", says the MoD spokeswoman.

A name also helps create a "audit trail" which is important when it comes to budgets and costs, says Ripley.

The US uses a similar computerised system. It was reportedly created in 1975 after names selected randomly by commanders, such as Operation Killer during the Korean War and Vietnam's Operation Masher, sparked criticism.

It gives each command within the Defense Department a series of two-letter groupings they use to come up with names. The US Africa Command, in charge of the current operation, is allocated letters JF-JZ, NS-NZ and OA-OF, said military spokesman Eric Elliott in a recent interview with the Washington Post.

West African winds

Commanders then consult a pre-approved list of about 60 code names to make the final decision. Once Odyssey was agreed on, commanders then "brainstormed for a random word that went well with it," he added.

"The goal is to create a name that has absolutely nothing to do with the activity of the region, so you could walk down the street in Washington during the planning stages and ensure that nobody knows it's about Libya," Elliott told the newspaper.

So anyone linking Odyssey Dawn to Homer's epic about the journey of Odysseus - which may have taken in the Libyan coast - is wrong.

The US has strict guidelines. The names should not "express a degree of hostility" or be "offensive to good taste or derogatory to a particular group, sect, or creed". Commercial trademarks, as well as "exotic" or "trite" choices are also banned.

But not all US operational names are neutral. Some have been chosen to convey a message, like Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

The Canadian military have their own system of naming operations. It has to relate to the region in which the action is being conducted.

"In this case since the region is the Mediterranean, the name MOBILE was chosen - M for Mediterranean," says Lieutenant Jenn Jackson, from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.

"For a single country contribution one word is used, and since this refers to Canada's contribution, one word MOBILE is used. Additionally, because Canada is a bilingual country, the word chosen must work in both official languages. MOBILE is spelled the same in both English and French."

The use of capital letters is just a custom and not significant, she adds.

The French have not said why they chose Harmattan as the name for their military operation, but the word means a dry and dusty West African wind. It's thought to derive from the Twi language, which is spoken in the region.

Forces from Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain and Qatar are also involved in the military action, but they have not given their operations a name. They haven't said why.

Greece is also giving "supportive assistance" and it has not given its operation a name either.

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