The U.S. deployed armed Predator drones for ground attack missions in Libya, as U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said that sending European military advisers to help the rebels isn’t a step toward deployment of ground troops.
President Barack Obama approved the use of the Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, against Libyan government forces, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. The unmanned aircraft, previously used for reconnaissance, provide better visibility of targets, which is important when Muammar Qaddafi’s forces are fighting in and around cities, said Marine General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Earlier this week, the U.S. said it would provide $25 million in non-lethal aid, such as radios and body armor, to Libya’s rebels, while Italy, France and the U.K. dispatched military advisers to help with communications and training.
Speaking yesterday on BBC Scotland radio, Cameron said that “we need to step up the pressure on every front” short of sending ground troops, a move prohibited under the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.
“We’re not allowed, rightly, to have an invading army or an occupying army,” Cameron said. “That’s not what the Libyans want, that’s not what we want, that’s not what the world wants.”
The uprising aimed at ending Qaddafi’s 42-year rule, which began in mid-February, has ground to a military stalemate near the central oil-port city of Brega. Fighting has halted most oil exports from Libya, which has Africa’s biggest oil reserves, as regional turmoil has sent oil prices up more than 30 percent from a year ago. Crude oil for June delivery rose 84 cents to settle at $112.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization warplanes on April 20 hit two heavy equipment transporters, three armored vehicles and an ammunition storage site near Tripoli, two tanks, a communications tower and a radar station near Misrata and a tank and two rocket launchers near Zintan, the alliance said in an e- mailed statement. Residents of the rebel-held western city of Misrata, besieged for more than six weeks, suffer daily shelling by Qaddafi’s forces.
The use of Predators is a “very limited additional role” for the U.S., Gates said. “I don’t think any of us see that as mission creep,” he said.
‘No Wiggle Room’
“I think that the president has been firm, for example, on boots on the ground, and there is no wiggle room in that,” he said. Obama has also been “pretty clear,” Gates said, that the primary strike role “has been turned over to our allies and our friends.”
The first ground-attack Predator missions launched yesterday but the remotely piloted aircraft were turned back by bad weather, Cartwright said. The Predator is made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego.
Pilots in NATO warplanes have had difficulty identifying Qaddafi’s forces once they move into cities and have had to exercise extra caution to avoid civilian casualties. The Predator gives NATO the ability to get closer to possible targets, review the scene and strike with precision.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday called for “some degree of patience” about the outcome of the conflict. She referred to the fact that the U.S. and its NATO allies bombed Serbia for 78 days in 1999, during the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton, to stop its attacks on Kosovo. The air campaign over Libya began just over a month ago.
“It is always a temptation in any conflict to expect there to be a resolution quickly,” she told reporters after a meeting at the State Department with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal.
The European military advisers, who will total fewer than 50, will be the first official Western military boots on the ground in an outside intervention that has been limited to air and sea power. The NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission is to police a no-fly zone, protect civilians and enforce an arms embargo on the Qaddafi regime.
Cameron said he discussed “further steps and assets we can bring to bear” against the Qaddafi regime in telephone talks April 20 with Obama, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani.
Those actions, Cameron said, include increasing airstrikes, providing “advice and mentoring” to the Libyan opposition, and further enforcing sanctions to block “the oil money Qaddafi is still getting.”
“We do need to step up pressure on every front,” he said.
Violence continued elsewhere as Libyan rebels took control of a checkpoint on the border with Tunisia “after violent fighting,” the state-run Agence Tunis Afrique Presse news agency said, citing an eyewitness. Thirteen Libyan officers including a major colonel fled over the border, the agency said.
More than 10,000 people, fleeing fighting in Libya’s Western Mountains region, have crossed the border into Tunisia in the past 10 days, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. Al Jazeera television said Qaddafi’s forces killed nine oil workers near Tobruk in the rebel-held east.
A ship chartered by the International Organization for Migration evacuated more than 1,000 foreign nationals from Misrata to the eastern port of Benghazi and also carried the bodies of a Ukrainian doctor and two Western photojournalists killed in the city, the group said in a statement yesterday.
The two photojournalists -- Tim Hetherington, an Oscar- nominated film director who produced the movie “Restrepo,” and Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images -- were killed April 20 by an explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade. Hetherington, 40, and Hondros, 41, had accompanied rebels to a position on Misrata’s central Tripoli Street when they were caught in an attack.
IOM has evacuated more than 3,100 people from Misrata, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office, from Britain’s Department for International Development and from the German government, the group said.
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