UK warplanes over Libya for at least six months: air chief

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The head of the Royal Air Force (RAF) has said British warplanes are likely to play a role in the campaign to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya for at least six months, in comments published Monday.

"In general terms [we] are now planning on the basis of at least six months, and we'll see where we go from there," Air Chief Marshal Stephen Dalton told The Guardian newspaper.

He added that the RAF's immediate priority was Libya and he believed the operation was "sustainable, at the moment, without jeopardising British efforts elsewhere".

Britain joined the United States and France in bombing Libya on March 19 to enforce a UN resolution aimed at protecting the civilian population from efforts by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's forces to put down an uprising.

The US military had planned to begin withdrawing its combat jets and Tomahawk missiles from the air campaign at the weekend as NATO allies were to take the lead in bombing Kadhafi's forces.

But the Pentagon announced on Sunday that the US involvement would continue through Monday at NATO's request.

Britain's involvement in Libya comes at a time when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is making cuts to the country's armed forces as it seeks to to slash a record deficit.

"On current planning, we can continue in Afghanistan, the Falklands and Libya with what we have got," said Dalton, 57.

"But that does bring you nearer the point that you have just about exhausted the bag. It's a heck of a lot to be doing at one time."

Britain contributes about 9,500 servicemen to the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

© 2011 AFP

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