Nato uses attack helicopters in Libya


Nato has used attack helicopters for the first time in raids against military targets in Libya.

The British ministry of defence confirmed British combat helicopters have carried out their first strikes in Libya. RAF Apaches are believed to have hit two targets near the Libyan town of Brega overnight in the latest Nato assault against forces loyal to Col Gadafy.

The helicopters took off from a British warship, stationed off the Libyan coast, before carrying out their mission and returning safely to the warship during the early hours of this morning.

The helicopters will increase pressure on the regime of leader Muammar Gadafy, Nato said in a statement on its website.

The conflict between Gadafy's troops and rebels trying to end his four-decade rule has left most of eastern Libya in opposition hands and curbed oil exports.

Nato said its air campaign has "effectively" pushed Gadafy into hiding. France's defense minister, Gerard Longuet, said that French Tiger and British Apache helicopters could join the operation in Libya "very rapidly."

Rebel troops of the Black Katiba, or Black Battalion, near the opposition-held city of Misrata, said they looking for support. "We are waiting for the Apaches," said Khalid Alogab, a tall, bearded commander in a black T-shirt, who awaits a chance to advance.

"Nato can take care of the Grads, we can all the rest," he said, referring to the Russian-made rockets that Gadafy's forces have fired into the city.

A rebel military spokesman in Misrata said there may be as many as 2,000 Gadafy loyalists outside the city, some of them elite forces. Rebel fighters are now coordinating with Nato and have been told not to advance beyond certain points, he said. "No doubt Nato will help a great deal in clearing the way forward for us," he added.

The Black Katiba was formed by Misrata men from all walks of life in the first days of the siege. The only qualification for entry was that recruits already knew at least one member of the unit. The battalion's name comes from the matte black paint applied to its fleet of pickup trucks, which carry machine guns or rocket launchers.

They were painted to set them apart from the white pickup trucks Gadafy's forces use, helping reduce the risk of friendly fire incidents - particularly by Nato aircraft.