NATO warplanes and attack helicopters have struck more targets in Libya, ratcheting up pressure against forces loyal to embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi. Rebel fighters have also made small gains in the Nafousa mountains, not far from the capital Tripoli.
The NATO attacks against Gadhafi forces were another small, but incremental sign the embattled Libyan leader’s position is slowly being eroded.
British warplanes struck a military barracks in the capital Tripoli, while Apache helicopters were used against Gadhafi strongholds along the coast. Arab satellite channels say the deployment of attack helicopters has galvanized rebel fighters, while sapping the morale of Gadhafi loyalists.
British military commander John Kingwell stressed the use of the Apache helicopters is providing new capacity to keep Gadhafi forces in check.
"The unique capability of the attack helicopter is its ability with its very advanced fire control system and radar to actually identify and engage targets with huge precision and that is something that fixed wing at the moment is not achieving," he said. "That will enable me, if required, to provide protection to civil population in Libya where the aircraft are flying, that at present we are not."
British Army Air Corps strategist Lieutenant Colonel James noted the new tactical advantages of the helicopters will seriously impede Colonel Gadhafi’s ability to harm Libyan civilians, which is NATO’s core mission.
"You know it just brings something else to the party," said Etherington. "As I said, we are able to fly lower, slower, different munitions, it is an escalation and I think, you know, we are committed to support and protect the civilians that Gadhafi is persecuting."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC Britain would like Libyan rebel leaders to “give a clearer picture of how they plan to govern,” if Colonel Gadhafi is driven from power.
Rebel forces in Libya’s western Nafousa mountain range have reportedly gained ground in recent days, capturing three towns and lifting the siege on a fourth.
Attacks by NATO helicopters on the oil town of Brega on the central coast put added pressure on Gadhafi forces defending the town. Rebel fighters are a stone’s throw away from Brega’s crucial oil and gas installations, as well as the nearby oil port of Ras Lanouf.
Arab satellite channels say some Gadhafi fighters are ready to surrender, but are afraid of possible reprisals. Other Gadhafi loyalists have fled by boat to Tunisia in recent days to avoid surrendering to rebel fighters.