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Terrorism & Security

US to begin drone strikes in Libya

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rejected concerns of mission creep, saying the US mission in Libya always left room for actions such as drone strikes.

By Correspondent / April 22, 2011

Members of the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron from Indian Springs, Nevada perform pre-flight checks on a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle prior to a mission in this Nov. 9, 2001 file photo shot at an undisclosed location. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday evening, April 21, President Obama had approved the use of drones for strikes against Col. Qaddafi's forces and defense positions.

U.S. Air Force/Reuters/File

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The US announced it will begin using armed drones against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, raising further concerns about "mission creep" in Libya after a trio of European powers also decided this week to send military advisers to train the rebels. Sen. John McCain called the rebels "heroes" on a surprise visit to Benghazi today.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday evening that President Obama had approved the use of drones for strikes against Col. Qaddafi's forces and defense positions. The announcement marks the United States' return to a direct combat role in the Libyan conflict, which had ceased when the US handed control of Libya operations to NATO in early April, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this week, Britain, France, and Italy all announced they would send military officials into Libya to advise the rebel forces. That and the US decision to launch drone strikes – drones were already operating in the area, but only for surveillance, according to CNN – have many in the US and Europe concerned that their countries will eventually drift into an active role on the ground in Libya.

But Secretary Gates rejected concerns of mission creep, saying the US mission in Libya defined by Obama always left room for something like this, CNN reported. "The president has said where we have unique capabilities, he is willing to use those," Gates said Thursday. The drones, which can fly lower, will allow for more precise targeting of airstrikes and will augment NATO strikes already taking place.

Vice Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. James Cartwright said the added precision is necessary because forces loyal to Gadhafi "nestle up in crowded areas" to maximize civilian casualties.

"It's very difficult to identify friend from foe," Cartwright said, noting that the drones facilitate identification of individuals on the ground.

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