Saturday, June 4, 2011

NATO Says Attack Helicopters Fly First Missions Against Qaddafi's Forces

British and French attack helicopters struck military targets in Libya for the first time last night as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stepped up the fight against regime leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

U.K. Apache helicopters from the carrier HMS Ocean and French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre destroyed a radar installation and a military checkpoint near the strategic oil town of Brega on the central coast, according to a statement from Major General Nick Pope, a U.K. military spokesman.

“The use of the attack helicopters is a logical extension of what we have already been doing,” U.K. Defense Secretary Liam Fox told reporters in Singapore today. “We will continue with the methods we have to degrade his command and control, to degrade his supplies.”

The conflict between Qaddafi’s troops and rebels trying to end his four-decade rule has left most of eastern Libya in opposition hands and curbed oil exports. NATO said May 20 its air campaign has “effectively” pushed Qaddafi into hiding.

British jet fighters operating in areas near where the helicopters were used destroyed a military installation and attacked two ammunition bunkers, Pope said in the statement. NATO has a better understanding of where Qaddafi’s forces are stationed, making it “appropriate” to use helicopters, he said.
‘Complement Well’

“As yesterday’s operations demonstrate, the capabilities of the Apache complement well the precision strike and reconnaissance missions flown by NATO fast jets,” Pope said.

NATO will cease its activities if Qadaffi stops “waging war on his own people,” Fox said in Singapore, where he attended a security forum with defense officials from 27 countries, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Before the helicopter assault, rebels of the Black Katiba, or Black Battalion, near the opposition-held city of Misrata, said they had been waiting for the Apaches.

“NATO can take care of the Grads, we can do all the rest,” said Khalid Alogab, a tall, bearded commander in a black T-shirt, referring to the Russian-made rockets that Qaddafi’s forces have fired into the city.

A rebel military spokesman in Misrata, Commander Ibrahim Betalmal, said there may be as many as 2,000 Qaddafi loyalists outside the city, some of them elite forces.
‘Clearing the Way’

Rebel fighters are now coordinating with NATO and have been told not to advance beyond certain points, Betalmal said. “No doubt NATO will help a,to continue:

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