British Apaches hit targets near Libya's Brega: ministry
British Apache helicopters destroyed a radar station and a military checkpoint held by Moamer Kadhafi's forces near Brega in their first sorties over Libya, the defence ministry said Saturday.
The operation late Friday by Apaches from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean off the north African coast took place alongside an operation by French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre, it said.
"Apache attack helicopters, flying from HMS Ocean, conducted their first operational sorties over Libya last night," Major General Nick Pope, spokesman for the Chief of the Defence Staff, said in a statement.
"The Apaches were tasked with precision strikes against a regime radar installation and a military checkpoint, both located around Brega," he said.
"Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon were used to destroy the targets; the helicopters then returned safely to HMS Ocean."
Libyan government and rebel forces have been fighting for months over the strategic eastern oil town of Brega and it is roughly where the two sides have reached a stalemate in recent weeks.
Two of the four Apaches that Britain has deployed for the NATO mission were involved in Friday's raid, according to the BBC, which has a correspondent on board the ship.
The BBC showed green low-light footage of the helicopters taking off from and landing on the deck of HMS Ocean, and of the ship's crew loading up the helicopters with missiles and cannon bullets.
In an interview with the BBC, the pilot of one of the helicopters said it was "mission success." He was not identified for security reasons, said the BBC, which showed only half of his face while the rest was obscured by his helmet.
"We struck a military radar installation on the coast which we destroyed with Hellfire missiles and we also destroyed a vehicle at a military vehicle checkpoint," the pilot said.
"We are pleased that it was mission success, it is a good feeling to go, do your job, do it professionally, accurately and get back in one piece, and this aircraft is desgined really to do that," he added.
One of the helicopters came under fire from the ground, said the former head of the British Army, General Lord Dannatt.
"My information is that one of the attack helicopters was engaged and destroyed, on the ground, the vehicle and people that were engaging it. These things are highly sophisticated and those on the ground should not tangle with them," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Pope said the attack was coordinated by NATO's air operations centre at Poggio, Italy, "and in particular was planned alongside an operation by French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre."
France has said that it deployed Gazelle and Tigre helicopters.
British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said NATO's use of attack helicopters in Libya is a "logical extension" of the military pressure on Kadhafi.
"No, it's not plan B at all," Fox told journalists on the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore. "The use of the attack helicopters is a logical extension of what we have already been doing."
Fox said the use of the helicopters showed the willingness of the coalition to "keep the pressure up" on Kadhafi.
In a separate statement, he said the mission proved Britain's capability to act in foreign theatres, less than a year after the coalition government axed Britain's only jet-capable aircraft carrier as part of sweeping cuts.
"This was the first operational mission flown by British Army Apaches at sea," he said.
"Their deployment from HMS Ocean demonstrates the flexibility of not just the aircraft, but also the Royal Navy's Responsive Force Task Group, held at very high readiness for contingency operations around the world."
© 2011 AFP