US carries out first drone strike in Libya: Pentagon
The United States carried out its first drone strike in Libya on Saturday, the Pentagon said, two days after approving the use of pilotless aircraft to aid rebels fighting Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.
“The first Predator strike in Libya occurred today in the early afternoon local time (our morning time EDT),” a US military press spokesman said in a statement sent to AFP.
A NATO statement said a “regime Multiple Rocket Launcher (MRL) in the vicinity of Misrata,” was destroyed “at approximately 1100 GMT today” when a drone intervened in the strikes.
“The MRL has been used against civilians in Misrata,” it said, adding: “NATO has kept up a high operational tempo — over 3,000 sorties since we took full command of the mission, almost half of them strikes.
“We have struck a broad range of targets across the country – tanks and rocket launchers, armoured vehicles and ammunition stores, command and control sites.”
US President Barack Obama on Thursday authorized the use of missile-carrying drones in Libya for what his administration called “humanitarian” reasons.
Rebels, battling to oust veteran leader Kadhafi after four decades in power, have bogged down despite a NATO-led operation launched last month to provide them with air cover and target pro-regime forces on the ground.
They welcomed the decision to send in the drones, which have been widely used in Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite controversy over the deaths of civilians caught in the cross-fire.
The NATO military alliance says the unmanned drones and their precision will give the coalition forces more options, especially in urban warfare.
“The use of drones will make it easier to target Kadhafi forces in crowded urban areas. A vehicle like the Predator, that can get down lower and can get IDs, will better help us carrying out the mission with precision and care,” a NATO official said.
Intense fighting on Saturday gripped Misrata, a port city east of Tripoli, overwhelming its hospital with casualties after Kadhafi’s regime gave its army an “ultimatum” to take the besieged Libyan city.
At least 10 people were also killed and 50 wounded in the street battles after NATO air raids struck near a compound in the capital Tripoli where Kadhafi resides.
The Pentagon spokesman said in an earlier statement that it is “standard procedure not to discuss specifics about UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) missions in any theater of operation.”