Libya crisis: US warplane crew rescued after crash

The F-15E went down near Benghazi in eastern Libya

Two US airmen have been rescued after ejecting from their F-15E Eagle warplane just before it crashed during allied operations in eastern Libya.

The plane appeared to suffer mechanical failure near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the US military said.

There are reports six villagers were shot and hurt in the US rescue effort.

The jet came down after a third night of US-led coalition attacks on Col Gaddafi's forces, aimed at enforcing a UN resolution to protect civilians.

Late on Tuesday, renewed explosions and anti-aircraft fire were heard in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

'Don't be scared'

The US military would not give the exact location the F-15E Eagle came down, but said both crewmen suffered only minor injuries after ejecting.

At the scene

You can see from the size of this massive crater the force with which the missile struck. It happened at about nine o'clock last night. It was the first of the big blasts, the big explosions that we heard early on in those first air raids.

And it's only one of three craters that we found in this vicinity. The other two are slightly smaller. But they've had the effect of destroying this marine workshop or warehouse. It's clearly a military location, there's absolutely no disputing that.

Further down, there are missile transporters and missiles themselves, missiles used by the Libyan navy. The government insists that many civilians have been killed and many more injured in the past three nights. Everybody here agrees this place was deserted last night and nobody was killed or injured here. We've repeatedly asked them to show us evidence to support their contention that civilians have been killed and injured but so far they've been unable to do so.

The Libyans argue of course that this is part of an imperialist Western plot, it has nothing to do with the protection of civilians and everything to do with plundering Libya's oil.

The aircraft was based in England and was operating out of Aviano in Italy. It was on a mission against a Gaddafi missile site, the Pentagon said.

One Libyan who came across the crashed jet told Britain's Daily Telegraph that one pilot held his hands in the air and said "OK, OK", but was quickly thanked by locals for his participation in the air strikes.

Younis Amruni told the Telegraph: "I hugged him and said 'don't be scared, we are your friends'."

A reporter for Britain's Channel 4 said six villagers were shot and injured as a US helicopter attempted to rescue the crew. She said one man expected his young son to lose a leg due to a bullet wound but that the locals did not appear resentful over the shootings.

A spokeswoman for US Africa Command said it was "trying to ascertain the facts".

The crash followed renewed allied air strikes over Monday night.

Libyan state television reported that Tripoli was "under crusader enemy aerial bombardment" and that several sites had been attacked.

The Libyan authorities said a naval base at Bussetta, about 10km (six miles) east of Tripoli, and a fishing village had also been hit.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Monday's air and missile strikes had caused "numerous" civilian casualties, especially at the "civilian airport" in Sirte.

Fighting between Col Gaddafi's forces and the rebels continued on Tuesday, despite the declaration of a ceasefire by the government:

  • A doctor in Misrata - the last rebel-held city in western Libya - told the BBC that residents had suffered another night of shelling by government forces, with 22 deaths and 100 injuries
  • In Zintan, near the Tunisian border, one resident told Reuters at least 10 people had been killed in a Gaddafi bombardment
  • In Yafran, 130km south-west of Tripoli, at least nine people were killed in clashes, residents said
  • Gaddafi forces continue to hold rebels on the eastern frontline near Ajdabiya

Many of the reports of overnight strikes and fighting cannot be independently confirmed.

Rebels near Ajdabiya, 22 March Ajdabiya, west of Benghazi, is now the frontline for rebel and Gaddafi forces

The BBC's Ian Pannell, in eastern Libya, says the rebels there have divergent strategies - some envision pushing west, perhaps even as far as Tripoli, while others want to just take Ajdabiya and then consolidate their hold of the east, hoping Libyans in other cities will rise up and liberate themselves.

The coalition's joint task force commander US Admiral Samuel Locklear confirmed on Tuesday there had been "tactical air strikes in coastal areas throughout Libya" without specifying locations.

He repeated that there had been no communication with the opposition and said he was "confident the Gaddafi air force will not have a negative impact on the coalition".

He added: "Despite our success, Gaddafi and his forces are not yet complying to the UN resolution due to the continued aggressive actions his forces have taken against the civilian population of Libya."

Embargo

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday that coalition forces were "going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties".

Mr Gates, after talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, added: "I also told him that I thought the significant military fighting that has been going on should recede in the next few days."

Coalition forces

  • US: B-2 stealth bombers; EA-18G Growler and AV-8B Harrier strike aircraft; destroyers USS Barry and USS Stout firing Tomahawk cruise missiles; amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge; command and control vessel USS Mount Whitney; submarines
  • France: Rafale and Mirage strike aircraft; refuelling and surveillance aircraft; aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and escort ships
  • UK: Typhoon and Tornado strike aircraft; refuelling and surveillance aircraft; Trafalgar-class submarine firing Tomahawk cruise missiles; frigates HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland
  • Italy: Tornado aircraft; providing military bases
  • Canada: CF-18 strike aircraft; frigate HMCS Charlottetown
  • Spain: F-18 strike aircraft; refuelling and surveillance aircraft; frigate and submarine; military bases
  • Denmark: F-16 aircraft
  • Belgium: F-16 aircraft

Russia, which abstained in last week's UN Security Council vote on the resolution authorising force in Libya, has since criticised the air strikes.

China has also urged all parties to "immediately cease fire and resolve issues through peaceful means".

On Monday US President Barack Obama said the US would soon cede control of operations in Libya - "in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks".

Mr Gates has said the mission could come under French-British or Nato control.

But divisions have emerged within Nato over taking command, with France and Turkey in particular offering objections.

France has indicated Arab countries would not want Nato to lead and that the organisation should support US, French and British political control.

Turkey wants limits on Nato involvement and says the air strikes have already gone beyond the UN resolution.

Italy said it could withdraw its bases without a co-ordinated Nato structure and Norway said its jets would not take part in the action as long as it was unclear who was in overall command.

The French on Tuesday suggested a new, overseeing political body to "unite the foreign ministers of the states that are intervening, along with those in the Arab League".

Nato officials say they do not expect a decision for several days.

Nato did agree on Tuesday to begin enforcing a UN arms embargo on Libya, using aircraft and ships in the Mediterranean to "conduct operations to monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries".

Also on Tuesday, Algeria called for an "immediate cessation of hostilities and foreign intervention", saying the latter was "disproportionate" in relation to the UN resolution.

Meanwhile, United Nations aid agencies say they believe thousands of Libyan citizens are displaced within the country, amid reports of severe shortages of food and medicines, and reprisals by government forces.

The agencies are hoping to get a convoy of aid into Libya on Wednesday.

Map

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