U.S. drones enter Libya conflict

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Predator drone.
Image: U.S. Air Force/Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt.

The first attacks carried out by United States Predator drones in Libya reportedly occurred today, as the Pentagon confirmed a strike carried out by the U.S. Air Force but declined to give further details.

According to Pentagon spokesperson Darryn James, a captain in the U.S. Navy, the attack happened sometime Saturday, but withheld other information. According to the Pentagon, "common practice" regarding drone operations is to provide no more information than to confirm an attack. NATO later revealed the target was a multiple rocket launcher in the Misrata area. A statement from NATO said that, "[t]he MRL system had been used against civilians in Misrata."

Robert Gates, the US Defense secretary, announced Thursday that President Barack Obama had given permission for drones to be used in the conflict due to their "unique capabilities." Previously, drones had been used only in a surveillance role.

General James Cartwright, an official with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that drones have an "ability to get down lower and therefore, to be able to get better visibility, particularly on targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions," a benefit in Libya, where pro-Gaddafi forces are increasingly taking cover near civilian populations. Drones are able to make more precise attacks, which lowers the risk of civilian casualties in such areas.