Britain undecided on Libya choppers, despite French claims

24th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain said Tuesday it has not yet decided whether to deploy attack helicopters in Libya, contradicting NATO ally France which announced that both countries were ready to send choppers.

Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey was forced to make a statement to lawmakers a day after French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said London would deploy Apache helicopters from an aircraft carrier.

"I state again for the avoidance of all doubt: no such decision has been taken by the United Kingdom," Harvey said in parliament after opposition MPs claimed the government was not keeping them informed.

"It is an option we are considering and there is absolutely no sense in which it is true to say that we have kept parliament in the dark about a decision."

But Harvey insisted that any deployment of helicopters would not represent mission creep two months into the NATO-led air war against Libyan Moamer Kadhafi's forces, adding that their use would only be a "tactical shift."

Longuet said on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels on Monday that he had discussed the plan to deploy helicopters with Gerald Howarth, the British minister for international security strategy.

"The sooner the better is what the British think," Longuet said, adding that the US-designed Apaches, which are used in Afghanistan, would operate from the British aircraft carrier HMS Ocean.

A British government source speaking on condition of anonymity expressed frustration that French officials had announced London's military plans before they had received ministerial approval.

NATO says it has seriously degraded Kadhafi's military machine with air strikes from combat jets, but helicopters would help the alliance strike regime assets hidden in urban areas.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris was deploying Tigre and Gazelle class helicopters aboard an aircraft carrier.

© 2011 AFP

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