President Obama has authorized the use of armed Predator drones against loyalist forces in Libya, a significant expansion of U.S. military involvement aimed at addressing a deteriorating humanitarian situation.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles was disclosed at a news conference Thursday by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. “The president has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those,” Gates told reporters, adding that the first armed Predator mission had taken place in Libya earlier in the day.
The decision to use armed drones follows nearly two weeks of criticism by Libyan rebels, who say NATO’s use of airpower has had a diminishing effect against government soldiers, many of whom have adapted to airstrikes by hiding tanks and artillery in heavily populated areas.
The deployment of the Predators, which are mostly used for precision strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, represents a notable expansion of the U.S. role in Libya since command was shifted to NATO on March 31. Although U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles led the initial assault against Libyan air defenses, the Pentagon had largely ceded responsibility for airstrikes to European allies.