US Planes Back In Action Over Libya

The Pentagon says United States fighter jets have been conducting strikes on Libyan air defences even since NATO took command of overall operations.

Women shout slogans against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi during a demonstration in Benghazi, Libya, on April 13. A group of Western powers and Middle Eastern states called for the first time on Wednesday for Qaddafi to step aside, but NATO countries squabbled publicly over stepping up air strikes to help topple him.

The Pentagon says United States fighter jets have been conducting strikes on Libyan air defences even since NATO took command of overall operations.

US officials had previously said that America was limiting its role in the operation to support and patrolling of a no-fly zone.

"We have fighter aircraft that NATO has, that they can use as part of the air tasking order for suppression of air defence missions and they have conducted some of those missions," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.

He did not say how many tactical fighter jets were assigned to the NATO-led mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, but confirmed the US aircraft had carried out a number of bombing raids against air defences since NATO assumed command of the operation on April 4.

But he said American warplanes were not participating in bombing runs related to a UN mandate to protect civilians from Moamar Gaddafi's forces, with US aircraft remaining on standby for that mission pending a request from NATO.

At a meeting on Libya's future on Doha, a spokesman for the Libyan rebels, Mahmoud Shammam, urged the US military to resume a stronger role in the NATO-led air campaign or risk more civilian casualties.
he US says its jets have been attacking Libyan air defences at NATO's request
Meanwhile a senior British miltary official said the RAF has used the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet in active combat for the first time.

Air Vice-Marshal Phil Osborn said the aircraft had been used on Tuesday to bomb targets over Libya.

"It's the first time that Typhoon has deployed weapons in the air-to-ground role. As far as I can recall, it's the first time it's deployed weapons operationally," he said of the aircraft's bombing raid on Tuesday.

A defence ministry official later confirmed that Tuesday's operation was the first time the Typhoon had fired live weapons during combat operations.

Meanwhile, international powers at the meeting have for the first time called for the defiant Mr Gaddafi to step aside.

'Gaddafi must go'

In a victory for Britain and France, which are leading the air campaign and pushing for greater involvement, the 'contact group' of 16 European and Middle Eastern nations, the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union, said Mr Gaddafi must go.

"Participants remained united and firm in their resolve," they said in a final statement.

"Gaddafi and his regime has lost all legitimacy and he must leave power allowing the Libyan people to determine their own future."

The group of foreign ministers said they would work with the national council rebel group to to set up a temporary financial mechanism, referring to an idea floated earlier of establishing a fund to help rebels using frozen assets.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, warned at as many as 3.6 million people, or more than half of Libya's population, could need humanitarian assistance.
Muammar Gaddafi . . . rebels say his regime has killed 10,000
"Under our worst-case scenario, as many as 3.6 million people could eventually require humanitarian assistance" he said.

"The humanitarian situation continues to worsen, approximately 490,000 people - almost half a million people - have left the country since the crisis began."

Mr Ban also urged the international community to "speak with one voice" on Libya, as a rift appeared to be opening between EU partners, with Belgium expressing opposition to arming the rebels and Germany insisting there could be "no military solution."

Calls to arm rebels

"The discussion about arming the rebels is definitely on the table ... to defend themselves," Italy's Maurizio Massari said ahead of the Doha meeting.

"We need to provide the rebels all possible defensive means," he said, singling out communication and intelligence equipment.

Qatar's crown prince, addressing the gathering of some 20 countries and international organisations, also said the Libyan people must be supplied with the means to defend themselves.

"The main aim of our meeting is to help the Libyan people decide their own fate... and to help the Libyan people defend themselves so they can decide on their future," said Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

However, Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said, "the UN resolution speaks about protecting civilians, not arming them."

And German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said: "We will not see a military solution" in Libya, but stressed that the Libyan leader had to step down.

ABC Online