Britain will send four more Tornado jets shortly to bolster NATO’s mission in Libya and help “keep the pressure up” until there is a proper cease-fire, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
The extra deployment will give Britain a total of 12 Tornado ground-attack jets, alongside 10 Typhoon warplanes, to help enforce the U.N.-backed “no-fly zone” over Libya and to protect civilians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Cameron said British pilots had destroyed 10 armoured vehicles and three tanks in Libya over the weekend.
“Four new additional Tornados will be deploying in the next couple of days,” Cameron told reporters before arriving at Gioia del Colle, the Italian airbase where UK forces are stationed.
Cameron said he was visiting Britain’s servicemen to express thanks for their bravery in helping to save “literally thousands of lives in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya.”
“They’ve been extremely successful in holding back Gaddafi’s forces,” he said. “They have flown a huge number of missions very rapidly.” British pilots have flown more than 70 sorties over Libya as part of Western attempts to bolster opposition forces who are trying to oust Gaddafi.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper published on Monday, Stephen Dalton, head of Britain’s Royal Air Force, said that the RAF was planning to continue its operations in Libya for at least six months.
He said Britain would need planes for a number of months rather than days or weeks.
“At some stage there will have to be a genuine cease-fire, then the political process will start — until then we have to keep the pressure up,” Cameron told pilots at the base.
Wing commander Andy Turk, who heads the British Tornado squadron, said British forces would continue “as long as it takes for mission success and we are on the road to that already.”
“We have control of the air, now we are refocusing on controlling the ground,” he told reporters. “It’s routine as an operation progresses we change our priorities from air to ground. It’s all about protecting Libyan civilians.”