UK military starting Libya return

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Media captionFlight Lieutenant James Boning: ''The mission has been demanding''

British military personnel are starting to return home from their Libyan mission after receiving congratulations from the defence secretary for a "job well done".

Philip Hammond said the armed forces could be "immensely proud that their hard work has assured the liberty of the Libyan people".

He was speaking on a visit to an Italy base from where RAF aircraft had flown.

The drawdown follows Nato's decision to end its mission on 31 October.

Six Tornado GR4 jets immediately returned to their base at RAF Marham in Norfolk from Gioia Del Colle airfield on Friday night.

The remaining UK air assets, including another 10 Tornado GR4s, two VC10 tankers, two E3D Sentry and one Sentinel surveillance aircraft, will return over the coming days.

The BBC's defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the Tornado crews were looking forward to going home after flying 3,000 sorties since 19 March.

Flight Lieutenant James Boning said: "Everyone is very satisfied that we've been able to complete the mission as required by the UN mandate. It's a feeling of satisfaction and the whole team has had to work together to achieve that."

HMS Liverpool is due to start its journey back to home waters over the weekend.

Mr Hammond said: "This is a job well done and we will be sending our crews home from tonight. I have given my personal thanks today to some of the aircrew and support personnel at Gioia del Colle."

At its peak, the UK had 2,300 personnel, 32 aircraft and four ships committed to the campaign in Libya at a cost of £160m.

The UK has flown more than 3,000 sorties, more than 2,100 of which were strike sorties, successfully striking around 640 targets.

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