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Russia: NATO ‘one step’ from land war in Libya

A volunteer fixes the graves of fallen soldiers loyal to Muammar Gaddaf in the west Libyan city of Misrata on Sunday. Qaddafi lo

Source : Diaa Hadid | AP
SINGAPORE | 05 Jun 2011

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov says NATO is “one step” from sending troops into Libya in a bid to help rebels remove Muammar Qaddafi from power.

Ivanov said Sunday at an Asian security conference in Singapore that Russia didn’t know that a United Nations resolution it supported to protect civilians and shut down Libyan air space would lead to a land operation.

Russia abstained from a United Nations Security Council resolution vote in March to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Ivanov said there has been disagreement over how to interpret the scope of the resolution.

British and French attack helicopters struck for the first time inside Libya on Saturday. NATO had previously relied on attack jets generally flying above 15,000 feet (4,500 meters).

The helicopters give the alliance a key advantage in close combat, flying at much lower altitudes.

In the Saturday attacks, British Apaches hit two targets near the eastern oil town of Brega, according British Maj. Gen. Nick Pope, and separate Royal Air Force planes destroyed another military installation near Brega and two ammunition bunkers at the large Waddan depot in central Libya.

Brega is of strategic importance to Libya’s oil industry and lies on the Mediterranean coastal road to the capital.

French Gazelle and Tiger helicopters struck 15 military vehicles and five military command buildings, said Col. Thierry Burkhard. All the helicopters returned safely, the French and British said.

NATO airstrikes have kept the outgunned rebels from being overrun, but the rebels have been unable to mount an effective offensive against Qaddafi’s better-equipped forces.

Military barracks targeted

On Sunday, British jets hit a military barracks in the Libyan capital, intensifying pressure on Qaddafi. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the Sunday strikes caused no casualties because the barracks were abandoned after having come under repeated NATO attack.

A NATO official, however, said Royal Air Force Tornados fired eight missiles into a surface-to-air missile depot in Tripoli. The early Sunday attacks also hit military sites in the town of Tajoura, west of Tripoli.

By intensifying attacks from the air and using helicopters to target government forces who melt into the civilian population for cover, NATO is providing a major boost to Libyan rebel forces who have seized much of the country’s east and toeholds in the west.

Emboldened rebels in recent days have forced government troops from three western towns and broke the siege of a fourth.

Saturday’s strikes by French and British helicopters targeted Libyan troops hiding in populated areas, as well as military vehicles and equipment — targets often unavailable to higher-flying jet fighters.

Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of the Libya operation, said the engagement “demonstrates the unique capabilities brought to bear by attack helicopters.” Until Saturday, NATO had relied aircraft that typically fly above 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) — nearly three miles (five kilometers). The jets primarily strike government targets but there have been cases when they missed and hit opposition forces by mistake.


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