Nato continues to face an "absolutely vital" task in protecting Libyan civilians from the brutality of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted today.
He acknowledged the "increased risk" attached to the deployment of attack helicopters but stressed that they would play a key role in bringing a halt to the dictator's attacks on his own people.
RAF Apache helicopters will form part of the latest Nato deployment in a move that has alarmed some MPs about the prospect of an escalation in the conflict and the danger to British lives.
Dr Fox denied that it amounted to an "escalation", but said: "It's quite right that if we use attack helicopters there is an increased risk -they fly at far lower heights than fast jets would, obviously at slower speeds than the fast jets would, and they are more susceptible.
"That's why in taking that decision we have looked at all the variables, the risk to our service personnel which is always very key, but also the fact that we are making progress in Libya, it's clear the regime is having trouble sustaining military activity and the more we can degrade that the more we can protect the civilian population.
"What people seem to be forgetting at the moment is that our primary job is protecting the civilian population and Gaddafi is still attacking the civilian population, so the task remains an absolutely vital one."
He insisted there was "no question whatsoever" of ministers overriding military concerns about the deployment of helicopters.
Nato's determination to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible has prevented speedier progress in Libya and Gaddafi is thought to be moving between hospitals in a bid to keep himself safe from air strikes.
Speaking to BBC1's Andrew Marr Show, Dr Fox said: "He's got a lot of bunkers, there are a lot of facilities that are being used partly as accommodation but also largely for military control and we will continue to degrade that."
The Defence Secretary denied that the military was targeting Gaddafi personally, saying: "We are trying to degrade his ability to control his armed forces and those who are repressing the civilian population."
Asked whether he was confident Gaddafi would go in the end, he added: "I think it's inevitable that when you have got the entire international community united behind you, we saw the Russians changed their position subtly this week and it's clear that the international community believes it's not possible to protect the civilian population while Gaddafi remains in control of the regime.
"He will go sooner or later and the calculation for those around him is how long they continue to invest in someone who ultimately will be a loser."Reuse content