The Pentagon says the United States is now authorized to use armed Predator drones in Libya as yet another means to end the conflict there. Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Dutch counterpart, Uri Rosenthal, met at the State Department to discuss other ways to bring the violence to an end.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that President Barack Obama has authorized the use of Predator drones in Libya.
"And I think that today may in fact have been their first mission, so I think that will give us some precision capability," said Secretary Gates.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright explained the benefits of unmanned, armed drones.
"...their ability to get down lower, therefore to able to get better visibility on particularly targets now that have started to dig themselves in to defensive positions," said General Cartwright. "They're uniquely suited for urban areas where you can get low collateral damage, and so we're trying to manage that collateral damage, obviously, but that's the best platform to do that with."
Cartwright said the first flights launched Thursday, but the weather was poor, so the drones could not stay out the full day.
Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Clinton met with Dutch Foreign Minister Rosenthal at the State Department. Speaking jointly after their meeting, Clinton said the two agreed that carrying out the United Nations Security Council mandate to protect Libyan civilians remains critically important.
"Colonel Gadhafi's troops continue their vicious attacks, including the siege of Misrata," said Secretary Clinton. "There are even reports that Gadhafi forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people. In the face of this inhumanity, the international community remains united in our resolve."
She said that while the U.S. deeply regrets all loss of life, she was particularly saddened by the deaths of two journalists Wednesday.
British-born Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated film director and war photographer, and Chris Hondros, an American working for Getty Images, were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Misrata, the main rebel stronghold in western Libya.
Holland's foreign minister called the men "two formidable journalists."
"It's just part of the human tragedy, humanitarian tragedy in Libya, a tragedy which is simply unacceptable," said Foreign Minister Rosenthal. "And that is why we are an active partner in the NATO campaign Unified Protector and why we also provide humanitarian aid whenever we can. And we are, with you, particularly concerned at the moment about the situation in Misrata."
Clinton called the conflict in Misrata "a very brutal, urban battle," and she said the Gadhafi regime is directly targeting civilians.
"But the opposition fighters are holding their own against that onslaught, and in large measure because we've taken Gadhafi's planes out of the air," she said. "We target every large vehicle that we think is theirs to be used against the opposition and civilians who are trying to stand against him."
Clinton added assessments indicate that the vast majority of opposition fighters are young men who had never participated in any such activity before.