Friday, June 3, 2011

NATO Unleashes Attack Helicopters for First Time

Updated 10 a.m. edt (Saturday)

There are conflicting reports, but it appears the French deployed both Gazelle and the newer Tiger attack helicopters overnight in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The French helicopters attacked 15 military vehicles and five command buildings, but NATO and the French Defense Ministry are not saying where specifically the gunships struck in Libya.

British Apaches hit targets in Brega, not far from where the rebel army is positioned. The strikes could be a precursor to another offensive by the increasingly better-armed and trained opposition fighters.

"This gives us a chance to target new targets in a way we weren't able to do," British Defense Minister Liam Fox said, according to The Guardian of London.

"What it does show is our willing to use the range of assets we have to keep the pressure up. We will continue with the methods we have to degrade his [Gadhafi's] command and control, to degrade his supplies," he added.

Meanwhile, there are reports British Foreign Secretary William Hague and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell are in Benghazi meeting with the rebel Transitional National Council.

end update

Updated 11:15 p.m. edt

French Gazelle and British Apache helicopters were both used in the strikes today in Libya on Moammar Gadhafi's forces and equipment.

The French apparently held in reserve their newer, more powerful Tiger attack helicopters.

The Brits hit radar and other targets around Brega, the BBC reported.

It was not immediately known where the Gazelles struck.

End update

The air campaign in Libya just escalated.

NATO unleashed its attack helicopters today for the first time, striking at Moammar Gadhafi's forces, military vehicles and equipment, the alliance announced.

"This successful engagement demonstrates the unique capabilities brought to bear by attack helicopters," said Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of NATO's Operation Unified Protector. "We will continue to use these assets whenever and wherever needed, using the same precision as we do in all of our missions."

NATO did not immediately say whether the helicopter gunships were British Apaches or French Tigers, or both.

The alliance also did not identify where the strikes occurred, but for days NATO has been telling rebel leaders that they planned to deploy the helicopters in the Misurata area.

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