Libya: UK jets bomb vehicles 'threatening civilians'

Libyan rebel takes cover as they try to retake the town of Ajdabiya
Image caption Libyan rebels are trying to re-take the town of Ajdabiya, where fierce fighting has been reported

British jets launched missiles at Libyan armoured vehicles as coalition raids continued for a sixth night, Defence Secretary Liam Fox has said.

He said Tornado aircraft targeted vehicles which were "threatening the civilian population of Ajdabiya".

Nato, meanwhile, has agreed to take command of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya from the US, after a dispute over who polices UN resolution 1973.

Downing Street welcomed the Nato move as "a significant step forward".

In a statement about action taken on Thursday night, Dr Fox said: "British Tornado GR4 aircraft, on armed reconnaissance missions over Libya... took part in a co-ordinated missile strike against units of Colonel Gaddafi's Libyan military, in support of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

"The Tornado aircraft launched a number of guided Brimstone missiles at Libyan armoured vehicles which were threatening the civilian population of Ajdabiya."

He said Brimstone was a "high-precision, low-collateral damage weapon optimised against demanding and mobile targets".

"Britain and her international partners remain engaged in operations to support United Nations Security Resolution 1973, to enforce the established no-fly zone and to ready the UK's contribution to the Nato arms embargo of Libya," he added.

Following Thursday night's agreement that Nato will take command of enforcing the no-fly zone, the organisation's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made clear that other aspects of the operation would remain in the hands of the current coalition for now.

It is believed there are differences of opinion within Nato on whether attacks on ground troops should form part of the action.

Twelve countries are now part of the coalition seeking to enforce the no-fly zone - including two Arab nations, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A Downing Street spokesman said the UAE's decision to contribute 12 planes was "evidence of the real and tangible Arab role" in enforcing the no-fly zone.

"Last night's decisions by Nato and by the UAE demonstrate the strength and breadth of the coalition involved in protecting the people of Libya.

"Nato's decision to assume command and control of the no-fly zone, in addition to the arms embargo already being enforced, is a significant step forward and will ensure that the alliance's tried and tested machinery is used to best effect," the statement added.

Bitter battle

Mr Rasmussen has insisted there is no split on the military handover, saying Nato is still considering whether to take on the "broader responsibility". The handover of the no-fly mission could come as early as this weekend.

Mr Rasmussen said all Nato members had agreed to the move, including Turkey, which had expressed doubts over strikes on a fellow Muslim country.

The UN resolution authorises the international community to use "all necessary means" to protect Libyan civilians, but the phrase has become open to different interpretations.

Further discussions are being held about command of action beyond strictly enforcing the no-fly zone.

On Thursday explosions were also heard around the capital, Tripoli, and there have been reports that French aircraft bombed a Libyan base deep in the desert.


French officials confirmed they had destroyed a Libyan military plane which had flown in breach of the no-fly zone. The G-2/Galeb, a training plane with a single engine, had just landed when it was hit by a missile fired by a Rafale jet, a spokesman said.

It was the first such incident of its kind since the operation began.

As the bombing raids resumed on Thursday night, Libyan state television reported that targets in Tripoli and Tajoura had been hit.

Fresh fighting has meanwhile been reported in Misrata, scene of a bitter battle for control.

Further east in the strategically important city of Ajdabiya, residents described shelling, gunfire and houses on fire. One report said rebels were moving closer to the city but remained out-gunned by pro-Gaddafi forces.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, rebel spokesman Mustafa Gheriani told the BBC that 17,000 fighters had set out from the city to join the battle to the west.