NATO Loses Contact with Drone Over Libya

Posted June 21st, 2011 at 7:55 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

NATO says one of its unmanned drones has disappeared over Libya, disputing reports that forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi had shot down an alliance attack helicopter.

A NATO military spokesman said Tuesday the alliance lost track of the helicopter along the central Libyan coast and is investigating the incident.

It is not clear whether ground fire or a mechanical failure brought down the drone.

Libyan state television repeatedly broadcast footage of aircraft wreckage it identified as a manned Apache attack helicopter near Zlitan, about 135 kilometers east of the capital, Tripoli.

France and Britain began deploying attack helicopters as part of the NATO-led mission earlier this month.

Also Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron brushed aside doubts about how long his country could maintain its role in the NATO campaign, saying it could stay as long as needed. British air force and naval commanders have said the mission is placing Britain's military under severe strain.

Meanwhile, at least four opposition fighters were killed and 50 others wounded in clashes with loyalist forces Tuesday in Dafniya, west of the rebel-held port city of Misrata.

The Reuters news agency reported that four rockets fired by Libyan government troops landed in Misrata for the first time in several weeks. Reuters said no one was hurt in Tuesday's attack.

At a news conference in Naples Tuesday, NATO offered surveillance evidence to show it carried out an airstrike on a “high-level” command center in Libya, despite Libyan government claims it was a civilian target.

Spokesman Mike Bracken said Monday's strike hit a “control node” in Surman that was used to carry out attacks on civilians. He showed photos of the targeted building, whose roof housed 17 satellite dishes that Bracken said were used in coordinating attacks.

The Libyan government, however, says the strike destroyed a large family compound belonging to a close associate of leader Moammar Gadhafi. It claims at least 15 people were killed.

The government says Khoweidi al-Hamidi, a member of Libya's Revolutionary Command Council, escaped unharmed. But the government says those killed included at least two of Hamidi's grandchildren and his wife.

The influential insider took part in the 1969 coup that brought the Libyan leader to power. His daughter is married to one of Mr. Gadhafi's sons, Saadi Gadhafi.

NATO says it has no confirmation of the reported casualties. Bracken also showed slides of a nearby mosque and school that were undamaged, he said, due to the alliance's use of precision weapons.

The alliance had at first denied the strike, saying it had not conducted any recent operations in the area about 65 kilometers west of the capital, Tripoli.