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Qaddafi's Air Force 'Effectively Destroyed,' says Britain

The Libyan Air Force no longer exists as a fighting force according to British Royal Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 3/23/2011, 10:37 PM / Last Update: 3/23/2011, 11:08 PM

British Royal Air Force Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell has disclosed that coalition forces have all but wiped out the Libyan air force and were attacking ground troops wherever they threatened the civilian population.

"We are now applying sustained and unrelenting pressure on the Libyan armed forces," he said from the RAF base at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy. "Effectively, their air force no longer exists as a fighting force, and his integrated air defense system and command and control networks are severely degraded to the point that we can operate with near impunity across Libya."

Prior to coalition strikes in the opening hours of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Libyan Air Force had an inventory of 374 combat capable aircraft, predominantly Soviet era Mig 17/19/25 fighters and TU-22 bombers, which were housed at 13 air bases. The U.S. State Department estimates indicated 50 percent of Libya's air-force, including most of its Migs, were in storage.

Following air-strikes by coalition planes enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, besieged rebels in Misurata say the odds have evened out in what has been, to date, an asymmetrical battle against Qaddafi loyalists, The New York Times reports.

Mohammed, a rebel spokesman in Misurata, said, "We almost lost all hope, but the strikes came at a good time with good intensity and frequency. The strikes made such a difference, Qaddafi's forces are scared of them."

While the withdrawal of many tanks from the streets of Misurata brings a much needed respite to Libya's third-largest city, there have been reports of renewed fighting in the eastern town of Ajdabiya and western town of Zintant. Witnesses in Misurata say loyalist snipers continue to target civilians.

U.S. Rear Admiral Gerard Hueber said Qaddafi's forces are still attacking Misurata and Ajdabiya with tanks, artillery and rocket launchers, and making incursions into both cities. "Our primary focus is to interdict those forces before they enter the city [and] ...cut their lines of communication and cut their command and control," Hueber said from aboard the U.S. command ship the USS Mount Whitney in the Meditteranean.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of the U.S. forces in Libya, said coalition aircraft would target the 10,000-strong 32nd Brigade commanded by Gaddafi's son Kamis, which Locklear described as a "premier force for Colonel Gaddafi.'"

The coalition insists it will not put "boots on the ground,'" but U.S. ships in the Mediterranean, on standby to carry out relief operations, also carry Humvees, armored trucks and weaponry, and are capable of delivering hundreds of Marines to beach landings if need be.

U.S. military officials said the wreckage of an F-15 that went down in eastern Libya had been bombed on Tuesday "to prevent materials from getting into the wrong hands." A military source told The Daily Telegraph strafing runs had been conducted on a Libyan army convoy and that two Harriers had dropped two 500-pound bombs during the rescue of the pilot.