Britain to deploy helicopters against Libyan forces

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Britain confirmed Thursday it would deploy Apache helicopter gunships in Libya, saying the change in tactics would give a final push to the regime of an increasingly "paranoid" Moamer Kadhafi.

The announcement during the G8 summit of rich nations in the French resort of Deauville came after days of reports that Britain would join France in sending choppers to join the stalled NATO campaign against Kadhafi's forces.

"Ministers have given clearance in principle to use Apaches," said a British goverment official at the summit, asking not to be named. "They will become a capable asset at NATO's disposal."

The official did not specify when they would be deployed, saying it was an operational decision.

Britain will operate four of the heavily armed helicopters from the HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier that will be based off the coast of the North African country, added a British goverment source.

France and Britain between them account for the majority of air strikes carried out by coalition forces against Kadhafi's troops under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution adopted in March to protect civilians.

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

The risk however is that helicopters will engage more closely with the enemy and thus become targets themselves.

France ruffled feathers in Britain on Monday when it said London was going to deploy the Apaches -- before British officials had formally taken the decision to do so.

The G8 summit will issue a formal call for the Libyan regime to end the violence but, with Russia opposing military action and the United States now holding back, the bulk of the mission has been left to Britain and France.

Earlier, after talks with US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron had refused to confirm Apaches would be sent in, but said they were being looked at as a way of keeping up pressure on Kadhafi.

"What I want to see, as the president and I discussed yesterday, is keeping up the pressure and turning up the pressure because I believe the regime in Libya and Colonel Kadhafi are feeling the pressure," he said.

To that end, a European diplomatic source at the summit said British intelligence reports showed Kadhafi sleeping at different hospitals around Tripoli every night in an attempt to shelter from the NATO bombing campaign.

"He is on the run," the source said on condition of anonymity

"There is a picture building up of this man who is very paranoid, and of a regime that is increasingly feeling the pressure and beginning to fracture."

Libyan officials have rejected suggestions that the regime is crumbling.

Britain currently has Apaches in service in Afghanistan where the country has around 9,500 troops as part of the NATO-led force battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.

© 2011 AFP

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