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."

Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday chaired a two-hour meeting of the government's emergency committee, COBRA, in London as the Libyan army declared another cease-fire.

Responding to the announcement, British Chief of Defence Staff General David Richards told reporters that the committee was "soaking it up" and "seeing what we can make of it".

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 earlier 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.

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

Acutely aware of the controversies in Britain's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 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.

Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the US army, told the BBC that assertions the military action was being undertaken purely to enforce the no-fly zone were "misleading".

"Certainly a no-fly zone is taking place but frankly that's not the purpose," the retired general said. "The purpose is clearly to use our airpower to destroy his decisive forces, which are his two armoured brigades.

"That's not what the public rhetoric says but that's clearly what this is about," claimed the ex-soldier.

The Arab League on Sunday criticised the military strikes, a week after urging the UN to slap a no-fly zone on the north African state.

Britain's Foreign Office (FCO) responded later Sunday, saying: "Unlike Kadhafi, the coalition is not attacking civilians.

"We will continue to work with our Arab partners to enforce the resolution for the good of the Libyan people," vowed the FCO.

The British 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 jets on Sunday arrived at the Gioia del Colle base in southern Italy, where they are ready to deploy against Libya in the mission dubbed "Operation Ellamy", Britain's Chief of Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer Major General John Lorimer 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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