Libya: RAF jets join ground-attack force

More British warplanes are moving from policing the no-fly zone in Libya to begin ground attacks in the country, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Four Typhoon jets will join 16 RAF ground-attack aircraft already under Nato command.

They are all based in southern Italy as part of an international coalition fighting Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Meanwhile, RAF missiles hit 12 targets around rebel-held Misrata and Sirte.

The targets were six armoured fighting vehicles and six battle tanks, the MoD said.

Libya's deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaim, said a British air strike had hit its major Sarir oilfield and damaged a pipeline connecting the deposit to a Mediterranean port.

The Reuters news agency said he told reporters: "British warplanes have attacked, have carried out an air strike against the Sarir oilfield which killed three oilfield guards and other employees at the field were also injured."

The Ministry of Defence said it was investigating the claims.

In an update on the UK military action over Libya, the MoD said that two Typhoon aircraft had flown from Gioia del Colle air base, southern Italy, to police the no-fly zone, while two RAF VC10 aircraft provided air-to-air refuelling.

It comes as former US Republican congressman Curt Weldon arrived in Libya on a mission to meet Col Muammar Gaddafi and ask him to step down from power.

Mr Weldon, who met the Libyan leader in 2004, says it is a private visit, with the knowledge of the White House.

The White House has also have confirmed that President Obama has received a letter from Colonel Gaddafi. It was said by state television in Tripoli to be a message to mark the reduced American role in the "hostile, colonial alliance".

Misrata 'a priority'

After criticism from rebels that Nato was taking too long to respond to calls for air strikes to protect Misrata, Nato vowed to do all it could to protect civilians there.

"Misrata is our number one priority," Nato deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

She added that alliance warplanes had hit Col Gaddafi's military around Libya's third largest city on Monday.

Nato also says forces loyal to Col Gaddafi are using "human shields" in Misrata, by using civilian vehicles and hiding heavy armour in civilian areas.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier this week that an additional four RAF Tornados would be sent to Italy, joining 18 RAF jets already deployed.

A total of 34 nations are involved in operations in Libya in support of the UN Security Council resolution to protect civilians in the north African country.

[Source: BBC, London, 06Apr11]

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