Killer drones deployed in Libya as US warns of `stalemate`

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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