Nato has confirmed that British Apache attack helicopters have launched their first attacks on Muammar Gaddafi’s troops in Libya.
The RAF Apaches and the French attack craft struck two targets near the key coastal oil city of Brega in the early hours of Saturday June 4th, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed. Gaddafi’s troops were hiding in populated areas, putting Libyan rebels on the ground at a great advantage. The attacks were launched a day after government troops were driven out of three western towns.
Col Thierry Burkhard of the French helicopters said that the manoeuvre was to “put additional pressure on the Gaddafi forces who continue to threaten civilian population”. According to Burkhard, the French helicopters struck 15 military vehicles, and although five military command buildings came under fire, none were hit nor damaged.
David Cameron made the decision to send four British Apache helicopters to Libya on the 27th of May. The Apaches ‘ stratagem via the HMS Ocean means there ought to be fewer civilian casualties than in operations that previously relied upon the use of Tornado and Typhoon aircraft. The Apaches however do operate at lower altitudes, making it easier for Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi, who still have access to thousands of surface-to-air missiles, to target them.
The attacks came after Libyan rebels won control over four towns in the western Nafusa mountain range on Friday. The rebels entered to find that the last government forces had already fled the towns the day before, having already been under weeks of siege from the rebels.
Additionally, the rebels forced government fighters from two small villages along the mountain ranges northern edge. According to Col Jumaa Ibrahim of the region’s rebel military council, one of these villages, al-Haj, holds an important power station for local towns.
Commander of the Libya operation, Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, is cited by Nato as saying that the appointment “demonstrates the unique capabilities brought to bear by attack helicopters”.