French fighter jets return from Libya

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France has begun withdrawing its combat aircraft from Libya operations, returning four Mirage F1s to France as operations come to a close following Muammar Gaddafi’s death and NATO’s withdrawal at the end of the month.

On Monday four Mirage F1CRs returned to Base Aerienne 188 Mont-de-Marsan, after having been based at Souda, Crete, as part of Operation Harmattan, France’s contribution to NATO’s Operation unified Protector. On Monday two Mirage 2000Ds also returned from Souda.

France originally sent more than 40 fixed wing aircraft and 20 helicopters to Libya, including Rafales, Mirage 2000s, Mirage F1s, KC-135s, E-3 AWACS, C-160s, Super Etendards, E-2Cs, Dauphins, Alouette IIIs, Pumas, Gazelles and Tigers.

French aircraft launched the first air strikes against Gaddafi’s regime in March and took part in the destruction of Gaddafi’s convoy as he tried to flee Sirte last week. French defence minister Gerard Longuet said that on Thursday coalition aircraft noticed “a convoy of several dozen four-by-four vehicles trying to force their way out of Sirte.” A Mirage 2000 fired its cannon ahead of the convoy “to block it, not to destroy it,” Longuet said. NTC forces then closed in on the blocked convoy and Qaddafi was killed in the fighting, Longuet said.

According to Longuet, between March 19 and September 30, French Navy and Air Force aircraft carried out 4 500 missions and accumulated 20 000 flight hours over Libya, amounting to around a third of coalition flights. Meanwhile, Army Aviation helicopters had carried out 90% of coalition helicopter air strikes, the remaining being made by British Army Apaches aboard the HMS Ocean.

By the end of August, French forces had attacked 2 500 military targets, including 850 logistics centres, 170 command and control facilities, 480 tanks, 250 vehicles and 160 pieces of artillery, according to Le Point.

Between September 30 and October 6, the French Air Force carried out 140 attacks against Libya, including 86 missions by Rafale, Mirage 2000 and Mirage F1 aircraft. Helicopters aboard the Tonerre flew eight missions. Twenty military vehicles, four buildings and a radar site were destroyed.

French forces fired 4 621 munitions between March and September 30. The figure includes 240 air-launched missiles, comprising 15 SCALP cruise missiles and 225 GPS-guided Hammer (AASM) munitions. In addition, more than 900 different bombs had been dropped, including GBU-12, GBU-24 and GBU-49 bombs. Gazelle and Tigre helicopters launched 431 HOT anti-tank missiles and fired unspecified numbers of cannon rounds.

France’s Libya operation is estimated to have cost between 330 and 350 million euros up to September 30.