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French fighter 'shot down plane near Misrata'

A French fighter jet has destroyed a Libyan plane after it violated the no-fly zone over the country, a US official said today.

The French attack came less than a day after a senior RAF commander claimed the allied forces had all but destroyed Muammar Gaddafi's air force.

Speaking at the southern Italian air base of Gioio del Colle, where the British force is stationed, RAF Group Captain Martin Sampson said: "I think it sends a powerful message that the coalition planes in the air at the moment are flying equipped to deal with anything that Gaddafi throws at them and if he does fly planes, we're effecting a no-fly zone and one of the ways we do that is to shoot a plane down if necessary."

He dismissed suggestions that France was playing a more aggressive role than the UK, describing the operation as a "coalition team effort, a collective effort".

He said: "We don't keep a tally between the French, the US, the British or anyone else. It's a coalition and how we perform as a coalition.

"It's not about us and what we do ... It's what do we collectively contribute."

He added: "I don't think anyone could look at a Tornado or a Typhoon, with the weapons fit they have ... and think that is less aggressive than anything anyone else has."

If necessary, the British force is able to deploy in under 10 minutes and has the "capability to deal with anything that comes up," he added.

The US official, who did not want to be named, said the plane was a military trainer aircraft.

France's joint chiefs of staff said their surveillance aircraft noticed the Libyan combat plane flying near the coastal city of Misrata.

The French Rafale fighter jet attacked with a guided air-to-ground missile after it landed at an air base.

William Hague today said the no-fly zone was established and UK forces had so far taken part in 59 aerial missions, as well as air and missile strikes.

The Foreign Secretary told MPs that he wanted to see operations moved from the command of the United States to Nato "as quickly as possible".

"We need agreement to unified command and control for it to be robust, and we expect to get that soon," he said.

With Washington insisting the US will step back from its leading role within days, Prime Minister David Cameron wants Nato to take the lead.

But French president Nicolas Sarkozy, backed by Turkey and Germany, wants the Alliance kept in a support role, with strategic decisions taken only by the governments in the military coalition.

Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy will deliver an update over dinner tonight at a summit in Brussels, insisting that the EU should keep up and extend its humanitarian role in the region, leaving the military operation to be conducted at Nato and coalition level.

Mr Sarkozy insists Nato primacy would send the wrong signal to Arab League nations which have joined the offensive.

Instead he wants the lead taken by a temporary "steering group" made up of the foreign ministers of all countries involved in the military action.

In a sign of compromise, and with Nato still bogged down in the detail of sharing responsibilities, Mr Hague is due to hold a meeting in London next Tuesday to demonstrate clarity and convince Washington of a clear chain of command.

He told the Commons: "Resolution 1973 lays out very clear conditions that must be met, including an immediate ceasefire, a halt to all attacks on civilians and full humanitarian access to those in need.

"We will continue our efforts until these conditions are fulfilled. The Libyan regime will be judged by its actions, not its words."

Last night Britain was involved in a co-ordinated action against Libyan air defence systems.

British forces launched guided Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) from a Trafalgar Class submarine during the fifth night of coalition action, the Ministry of Defence said.