Killer drones deployed in Libya as US warns of `stalemate`
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Last Updated: Friday, April 22, 2011, 23:59
  
Tripoli/Washington: US drones commenced operations in Libya to help rebels bogged down in their bid to oust Muammar Gaddafi as the top American commander warned that the conflict was "moving towards stalemate".

The deployment of the Predators, highly successful in operations on the Af-Pak border, comes as senior Republican Senator John McCain on Friday met Libyan rebel in Benghazi, the headquarters of the opposition Transitional National Council (TNC) and members of the military to assess the situation on the ground.

The deadly drones carried out a number of strikes in rebel-held western Misurata as well as on suspected missile sites in capital Tripoli giving tactical advantage to the opposition, who drove out dozens of snipers on tall buildings in hours of street fighting, NATO officials said.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, admitted that while the NATO air strikes had weakened the Libyan forces, the conflict was moving into "stalemate".

Mullen, speaking to US troops in Iraq, said said the fighting in Libya is "moving towards stalemate", even though US and Nato air strikes have destroyed 30-40 person of Gaddaf's ground forces, BBC reported.

Amid the heavy street fighting in Misurata, Gaddafi's forces stepped up the pounding of the city, 214 km east of the capital.

At least seven civilians were killed yesterday and BBC quoted medics as saying more than 1,000 people have been killed since the fighting began in February.

As civilians were being targeted in the streets by snipers, the low-flying pilotless drones will be able to accurately target pro-Gaddafi units on the ground in Misurata.

Amid warnings of a "stalemate" in the war, NATO has stepped up its attaks on Gaddafi's forces. Al Jazeera quoted Libyan state television as saying today that nine people were killed overnight in a NATO bombardment of Sirte, the home town of the embattled leader.

Earlier, it reported that NATO had carried out air strkes in Khallat al-Farjan area of the capital Tripoli, killing seven people and wounding 18 others.

However, NATO denied that the raid had led to death of civilians, underlineing that a command and control bunker in a military compound was the target.

McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate who has pushed for greater US involvement in the NATO air campaign, was mobbed and greeted by slogans" "Libya free, thank you America, thank you Obama," when he arrived in Benghazi.

McCain, who is holding talks with TNC leaders, is the highest-ranking US politician to visit Benghazi since the popular uprising against Gaddafi began in mid-February.

The announcement of deployment of armed drones over Libya was made by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who said this would give allied forces "precision capability" in military operation.

US officials said at least two predators would remain in the Libyan airspace at all times and the Hellfire missile equipped UAVs would prove more effective than A-10 ground attack aircraft.

The news of deployment of armed drone was welcomed by Libyan rebels, but the Libyan government ramped up rhetoric against NATO warning that "it will be hell" for the alliance if it sends ground troops to Libya.

The Libyan government warned that the drones would lead to surge in civilian casualties.

"They [drones] will kill more civilians and this is very sad," Libyan deputy foreign minister Khaled Khaim was quoted as saying by BBC.

In a rare advance against government troops in the west of the country, rebels took control of the Wazin crossing linking the Libyan town of Nalut to Dehiba on the Tunisian border in the remote region where Gaddafi's forces were engaged in intense fighting with the rebels.

It possibly opens a new channel for the opposition in Gaddafi's bastion in western Libya.

The US today underlined that the deployment of armed UAVs was not a prelude to an even deeper American commitment involving more strike aircraft or ground troops.

"I think the president has been firm in conveying that there will be no boots on the ground. There is no wiggle room in that... This is a very limited capability," Gates said at a news conference in Washington.

He said America does not want to play any role in the regime change in Libya as it believes that this works best when "done from within".

"Regime change imposed from the outside, as we have seen in Iraq and in the Balkans, is incredibly difficult and works best, as we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt, when it is done from within," Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing.

He said the US was "trying to provide enough space.... in order to protect the opposition from Gaddhafi's military, to the extent we can".

"We are reducing his military capabilities to the point where hopefully those who rose up in many of these other towns, as well as the places that are under siege now, will have a better chance of being successful in bringing about a change there," Gates underlined.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has alleged that the Libyan regime may have used "cluster bombs" against their own people though Pentagon officials said there was no "verification" of such reports.

"Colonel Gaddafi's troops continue their vicious attacks, including the siege of Misurata. There are even reports that Gaddafi forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people," Clinton said in a joint press availability with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal in Washington.

At a Pentagon news conference, General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that so far there has been "no confirmation" of such reports.

France, Italy and Britain ahve agreed to send military officers to Libya to train the ragtag rebel forces seeking to end the 41-year-rule of Gaddafi. The European military officers will help advise rebels on technical, logistical and organisational issues.

Even as backing the three European countries to dispatch military advisers to help the rebels, the US has made it clear it will not be sending any military personnel to the war-torn North African state.

PTI


First Published: Friday, April 22, 2011, 23:59


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