Obama Sends Armed Drones to Help NATO in Libya War

President Obama has authorized the use of armed Predator drones to attack Libya government forces fighting the rebellion against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi as NATO struggles to regain momentum since taking command of the operation from the United States.

The deployment of armed Predators, announced Thursday by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, was in part a reaction to changing tactics by the Qaddafi forces, which are intermingling with civilian populations and mounting attacks from unmarked trucks and other vehicles, making them difficult to identify and attack by high-flying NATO fighters and bombers.

The Predator remotely piloted aircraft, outfitted with Hellfire missiles, has been used with effectiveness against pinpoint targets in urban and rural areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen and is a signature weapon of the American military.

But the challenges of the Libyan intervention were apparent again Thursday, when the Predators were sent aloft on their first missions but turned back due to bad weather.

Other NATO nations do not fly armed Predators, although they have unarmed versions for reconnaissance and targeting purposes, and the decision by Mr. Obama to add these weapons to the Libya operation was viewed as another example of the struggle to fill gaps in NATO’s capability to carry out a complicated, extended combat mission with significant American support.

Those gaps have become more apparent as the United States transferred command of the Libya operation to NATO and stepped back to a supporting role.

“The president has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.

“And in fact he has approved the use of armed Predators,” the defense secretary added. “So I think that will give us some precision capability.”

[Source: By Thom Shaniker, New York Times, Washington, 21Apr11]

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