British PM boost Libya jet numbers at Italian base

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Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise visit Monday to the Italian base hosting British jets enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, and announced four more planes for the mission.

Flying into Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, he said Britain would be deploying four new Tornado jets "in the next couple of days" to boost the NATO-led mission to protect civilians from Moamer Kadhafi's forces.

"Which will mean we will have 10 Typhoons for the mission in terms of the no-fly zone and we'll have a total of 12 Tornado ground attack aircraft involved in operations," he told reporters travelling with him.

Cameron said his brief visit was intended to give him an opportunity to congratulate the Typhoon and Tornado pilots and their crews on "an incredible job".

In his first trip to the military base since the operation, Cameron said the British jets had saved "literally thousands of lives in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya".

"The whole country should be proud of what they've done. They've responded incredibly quickly, they've flown many sorties, they've been extremely successful in holding back Kadhafi's forces," he told reporters.

"Just over the weekend they have destroyed ten armoured vehicles and three tanks and they have flown a huge number of missions very rapidly and, as ever, very brilliantly."

Cameron was due to have a cup of tea with some of the pilots and view the planes during his brief visit, as well as receive a briefing on the operation.

The British jets have been at Gioia del Colle since the day after military action against pro-regime forces began on March 19, and have flown more than 70 combat sorties, officials said.

© 2011 AFP

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