NATO deploys attack helicopters to Libya

Britain has announced its intentions to deploy Apache attack helicopters to Libya. This move reflects the frustration of coalition chiefs over their inability to break the stalemate in the troubled region. A blitzkrieg-style military operation turned out to be an exhausting endless confrontation between the Libyan rebels supported by NATO air forces and Gaddafi troops. The lack of progress is accompanied by the recognition that NATO efforts still remain insufficient to secure the Libyan civilians, especially in the important city of Misrata, which has become the epicenter of violence. At the same time the use of the helicopters takes the NATO offensive much closer to the ground, which goes against the promise of not sending troops into the country.

The decision to send Apaches to Libya demonstrates the late admission by NATO commanders that bombing from an attitude of more than 4500 meters has small chances to protect civilians, who still remain under heavy shelling by rocket launchers and mortars.

Apaches, which are being used in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, have good mobility and can attack small targets in built-up areas. They are also equipped with night vision equipment and electronic guidance systems, which makes them an effective weapon against enemy targets usually disguised as civilian vehicles and buildings.

The Apaches will join the Tigers and the Gazelles - French helicopters of a similar class. According to French sources, the battleship Tonnerre, carrying the helicopters, left Toulon last week.

"Our strategy is to step up the military pressure in the weeks ahead while pushing at the same time for a political solution," – said Alain Juppé, France's foreign minister, adding that 12 French helicopters would allow the allied forces “to better adapt our ground attack capacity with more precise means of striking".

His position has been backed by the British foreign secretary William Hague, who, attending an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, stated that "we certainly agree with France, and indeed with all our partners, including all our partners at the EU meeting here today, that it is necessary to intensify the military, economic and diplomatic pressure on the Gaddafi regime."

The deployment of helicopters along with the heavy bombing of the Libyan capital Tripoli may be seen as an attempt oat an adequate response to the progress recently made by the Gaddafi forces. According to Reuters, government troops intensified operations on the western front, moving troops closer to the mountain region bordering Tunisia. A rebel spokesman also claimed that Gaddafi artillery had started the shelling of the town of Zintan, controlled by rebel troops.

In response, NATO air forces started a bombardment of Tripoli that has already been described by observers as the heaviest attack on the Libyan capital since the beginning of the campaign.

According to British and French officials, even the unveiling of plans to use the helicopters has a chance to break the morale of pro-Gaddafi forces. Considering the developments in the Libyan campaign, such a forecast sounds a little bit naïve, however the move could satisfy, at least temporarily, the rebels’ demand for more effective military support from NATO. The helicopter trick seems to be the last chance for the NATO chiefs to keep their promise. While the officials keep denying any possibility of deploying troops, the failure of the helicopter plan would leave NATO no other option.

[Source: By Gladkov Vladimir,The Voice of Russia, Moscow, 24May11]

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