British Apache helicopters attack Libyan targets

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The Independent Online

British combat helicopters have destroyed a radar installation and a military checkpoint during their first operation in Libya, despite coming under fire.

The Ministry of Defence said Army Air Squadron Apaches successfully completed their mission of hitting the targets near the Libyan town of Brega overnight.

Forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi fired at the one of the choppers, but both returned safely to the Royal Navy helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, stationed off the Libyan coast.

Major General Nick Pope, the Chief of the Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer, said: "The mission was carefully co-ordinated with other allied air missions by Nato's air operations centre, based at Poggio in Italy, under Operation Unified Protector, and in particular was planned alongside an operation by French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre.

"Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon were used to destroy the targets."

He said RAF ground attack aircraft destroyed another military installation in the same area, and another RAF mission successfully attacked two ammunition bunkers at the large Waddan depot in central Libya.

The Attack Helicopters, Tornados and Typhoons hit their targets which had been "carefully and rigorously selected".

He added: "Our understanding of the detailed disposition of Colonel Gaddafi's forces has been improving in a very satisfactory manner, despite their efforts to conceal themselves."

French attack helicopters also took part in operations, taking off from the transport ship Tonnerre, said Col. Thierry Burkhard. He said they struck 15 military vehicles and 5 military command buildings, without identifying the sites or their location.

Burkhard said the French helicopters came under light-arms fire but were not hit or damaged. The operation was aimed at putting "additional pressure on the Gaddafi forces who continue to threaten the civilian population," he said.

Until now, NATO has relied on attack jets, generally flying above 15,000 feet - nearly three miles - high and pounding Gadhafi targets in relentless overnight bombings.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said today that the "use of the attack helicopters is a logical extension" in NATO's campaign and indicated more would be used in the future.

"This gives us a chance to target new targets in a way we weren't able to do," Fox said from Singapore, where he was attending an Asian security conference. "What it does show is our willing to use the range of assets we have to keep the pressure up. We will continue with the methods we have to degrade his (Gaddafi's) command and control, to degrade his supplies."