Britain hails 'very successful' Libya attacks

20th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain said Sunday its air and sea strikes on Libya had been "very successful" and stressed it was doing everything it could to avoid civilian casualties as it enforces a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone.

British fighter planes and a submarine joined US and French military in attacking Libya overnight, after they agreed with Arab allies at crisis talks in Paris to take action to stop Moamer Kadhafi's offensive on rebels.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that early reports suggested the bombing raids were "very successful".

Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn, the second in command of the Royal Air Force, added in a briefing to reporters in London: "We're entirely comfortable with the way the operations went last night in terms of success."

A Libyan official told AFP that at least 48 people had died in the assaults, which began with a strike at 1645 GMT Saturday by a French warplane on a vehicle the French military said belonged to pro-Kadhafi forces.

But British ministers and officials said they were only hitting military targets needed to bring down Libya's air defence network and enforce the no-fly zone agreed by the United Nations Security Council.

Fox said the Libyan regime was "engaged in a propaganda exercise", saying: "We are using some very specific types of weaponry designed to minimise any civilian casualties or other collateral damage."

"The risk of collateral damage is at the forefront every time we do a plan," added Osborn, saying that Britain had attacked "key military targets", mostly around Tripoli.

In Britain's first air strikes in the campaign, Tornados hit Libya on Saturday with Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

The planes flew 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) from their base in eastern England and back again in what officials said was the longest-range bombing mission for the Royal Air Force since the Falklands war with Argentina in 1982.

They were refuelled four times mid-air during the eight-hour round trip.

A British Trafalgar-class submarine meanwhile joined in an attack with American forces from the Mediterranean that saw more than 110 Tomahawk missiles fired at some 20 air defence targets, a top US military officer said.

The international community moved to put a halt to the advance of Kadhafi's forces on rebels, who have been trying to overthrow him for more than a month.

Acutely aware of the controversies in Britain's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Prime Minister David Cameron has gone to great lengths to defend the intervention, which is the first time he has sent troops into action since becoming premier.

The action is being taken under Thursday's UN Security Council resolution which authorised the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Kadhafi's forces.

"We have all seen the appalling brutality that Colonel Kadhafi has meted out against his own people," Cameron said late Saturday.

"And far from introducing the ceasefire he spoke about, he has actually stepped up the attacks and the brutality that we can all see. So what we are doing is necessary, it is legal, and it is right."

The defence secretary said the frigate HMS Westminster was off the coast of Libya, and another, HMS Cumberland, was in the region ready to support operations.

Typhoon and Tornado jets will fly this weekend to Gioia del Colle, a base in southern Italy, where they will be ready to deploy against Libya in the mission dubbed "Operation Ellamy", Fox said.

British lawmakers are due to vote on military action in parliament on Monday but the main opposition has already pledged its full support.

"It is always a grave decision to send our armed forces into possible combat. But the international community could not have stood by as innocent people were slaughtered," Labour leader Ed Miliband said Sunday.

© 2011 AFP

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