Friday, October 21, 2011

Officials: US drone fired in Gadhafi strike

Atlanta Journal Courier
Lolita C. Baldor

WASHINGTON — With the end of the Libya mission in sight, U.S. military officials were looking ahead Friday to where they might shift aircraft and drones that had been involved in the operations.

And, even as international leaders were still trying to sort out the details of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's death, they were bracing for a difficult transition as disparate rebel groups try to form a unified government.

U.S. officials confirmed Friday that an American Predator drone took part in the airstrike that hit the convoy carrying ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but it's still not clear how he got his fatal wounds.

The officials said the Predator fired on the convoy as it was fleeing Sirte, and French aircraft launched guided missiles. According to most accounts two vehicles in the convoy were hit.

Gadhafi was wounded when captured, and later died. He had gunshot wounds to his head, chest and stomach.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations. NATO's top commander said Friday he will recommend ending the alliance's 7-month mission in Libya.

There are currently about 70 U.S. aircraft as well as a number of ships, three unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drones and several Predators assigned to the Libya mission. So far, none of those aircraft or ships have been moved or taken out of the mission, but many will likely move on fairly quickly.

There is fervent demand particularly for the drones, both at the battlefronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other hotspots around the world, including Africa, South America and the Asia-Pacific region.

A senior U.S. military official said Friday that there are a number of Islamic extremists in Libya who will likely play a role in the new government. And military leaders are concerned about former insurgents in the country who reportedly had renounced extremism but had strong ties to al-Qaida leadership.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters, said the U.S. military also remains worried about weapons proliferation in Libya, amid ongoing suspicions that thousands of shoulder-launched missiles have gone missing and could end up in the hands of terrorists.

Libya was believed to have about 20,000 of the missiles — known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS — in its arsenals before civil war began in March.

The Obama administration froze some $37 billion in Gadhafi assets earlier this year. It has released $700 million so far to the National Transitional Council.

NATO warplanes have flown about 26,000 sorties, including over 9,600 strike missions. They destroyed Libya's air defenses and over 1,000 tanks, vehicles and guns, as well as Gadhafi's command and control networks. The estimated cost of the Libya military operation as of Sept. 30 was about $1.1 billion, which includes military missions, munitions, Defense Department supplies and humanitarian assistance.

In addition, the U.S. sold participating allies about $250 million worth of ammunition, spare parts, fuel and other support.

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