Italian pilotless drone completes first surveillance mission

The first Italian pilotless Predator drone has completed a 12-hour surveillance flight over Libya after taking off from an air base in Foggia, southern Italy

The Predator B drone took off from the Amendola air base in the Puglia region Wednesday and carried out its surveillance mission, crossing the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean between Italy and North Africa.

Aircraft taking part in Nato's Unified Protection mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and protect civilians from attack by forces loyal to embattled Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi are now taking off from six Italian military bases located across the country.

Italy is currently remotely operating two unarmed Predator drones which are being used for reconnaissance flights.

Since the beginning of the United-Nations mandated Nato operation on 31 March a total of 18,656 flights, including 7,079 strike sorties have been conducted, the alliance said in a statement on Friday.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Thursday expressed alarm at the rising number of civilian casualties in the Libya conflict, including those inflicted in NATO airstrikes, as the Libyan rebels said they captured the key oil terminal of Brega that has repeatedly changed hands in the 6-month-old civil war.

More than 35,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year rule in Libya began in mid-February according to the rebel National Transitional Council, which 32 countries have recognised as the country's sole legitimate representative, at least temporarily.

As well as the 35,000 people killed, tens of thousands have been injured and the damage to infrastructure is over 240 billion dollars, the Bengasi-based TNC's spokesman Abdel Monem al-Houni said on Thursday.

Al-Houni, Gaddafi's former envoy to the Arab League was speaking to Egypt's Al-Masri al-Youm newspaper.

[Source: IGN, Adnkronos, Rome, 12Aug11]

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