NATO Launches First Attack Helicopter Missions in Libya
Rumors had been circulating for several weeks that NATO would begin using attack helicopters to assist fighter jets and missiles being fired from off the Libyan coast. The attack helicopters aim to increase the pressure on the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The targets struck by attack helicopters on Saturday morning included military vehicles, military equipment, and fielded forces. “This successful engagement demonstrates the unique capabilities brought to bear by attack helicopters,” said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. “We will continue to use these assets whenever and wherever needed, using the same precision as we do in all of our missions.”
The British Ministry of Defense confirmed that its Apache helicopters, flying from HMS Ocean, participated in the attacks. “The mission was carefully coordinated with other allied air missions by NATO’s air operations center, based at Poggio in Italy, under Operation Unified Protector, and in particular was planned alongside an operation by French helicopters from the assault ship Tonnerre,” said Major General Nick Pope, the UK’s Chief of Defense Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer.
Pope said the Apache helicopters were tasked with precision strikes against a Gaddafi regime radar installation and a military checkpoint, both located near the Libyan city of Brega. “Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon were used to destroy the targets; the helicopters then returned safely to HMS Ocean,” he said.
In the same area, UK Royal Air Force ground attack aircraft also destroyed another military installation, whilst a separate RAF mission successfully attacked two ammunition bunkers at the large Waddan depot in central Libya.
The use of attack helicopters provides the NATO operation with additional flexibility to track and engage pro-Gaddafi forces, who are accused of deliberately targeting civilians and attempt to hide in populated areas.