RAF strikes at Libya with four extra Tornado fighter jets

David Cameron announced that four more Tornado fighter-bombers were being deployed to the Libyan mission, taking the total for the operation to 12.

It is understood the Tornados, from RAF Marham in Norfolk, will help fill gaps left by US forces, which are reducing their operations in Libya.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, also told MPs that Britain would supply the rebels with equipment, including communications kit.

Officials said it would “primarily” allow rebel commanders to contact the front line, but could also be used to call in coalition air strikes. Mr Hague said: “We are not engaged in arming the opposition forces.”

The extra Tornados, which increase Britain’s ground-attack capability by 50 per cent, have been deployed despite repeated claims that Col Gaddafi’s forces have been weakened. Even after almost three weeks of Western attacks, pro-Gaddafi forces have still prevented rebels from advancing on Tripoli.

On his flight to the Gioia del Colle airbase in southern Italy, the Prime Minister said British forces destroyed 10 armoured vehicles and three tanks over the weekend. “They have been extremely successful in holding back Gaddafi’s forces,” Mr Cameron said.

The increase in the Government’s commitment may raise fears that Britain is being sucked into a prolonged conflict that will drain resources.

In other developments:

  • It was disclosed that Moussa Koussa, the former Libyan foreign minister who fled to Britain, could face criminal proceedings in a British court within weeks for his alleged involvement in IRA bombings.

  • Ministers were heavily criticised by an MPs’ committee for misjudging the risk that British arms exports could be used to kill protesters.

  • A rift opened in the Gaddafi family between the leader’s hardline sons and others pursuing diplomatic initiatives.

    As well as the 12 Tornados, Britain has 10 Typhoons enforcing the no-fly zone. A senior source admitted there was still work to be done before Col Gaddafi’s forces crumbled, saying: “He still has a lot of people left.”

    The head of the RAF warned that the operation was close to overstretching his force. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton said: “It’s a heck of a lot to be doing at one time.”

    He suggested the RAF may be in action for six months, while Mr Cameron said: “It is not easy to know how the end game will work.”

    [Source: By James Kirkup, Gioia del Colle, The Telegraph, London, 04Apr11]

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    Libya War
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