Prime Minister David Cameron has passed on 'heartfelt thanks from the British public' to RAF personnel engaged in Libya during a surprise visit to the Italian air base at Gioia del Colle earlier today.
For the past two weeks, the base has been a temporary home to British Typhoon and Tornado aircraft enforcing UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973, implemented to protect civilians in Libya.
Addressing the UK servicemen and women there, Mr Cameron said the crews involved had saved thousands of lives in Benghazi and other parts of Libya by preventing assaults by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces on civilians and rebel soldiers:
The whole country should be proud of what they have done,” he said. “They have responded incredibly quickly. They have flown many sorties. They have been extremely successful in holding back Gaddafi’s forces.
Just over the weekend, they have destroyed ten armoured vehicles and three tanks and they have flown a huge number of missions very rapidly and, as ever, very brilliantly.
Over the past few days, as part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to NATO to enforce UNSCR 1973, RAF aircraft have continued to carry out attacks on military targets in Libya and patrol the no-fly zone.
Yesterday, RAF Tornado GR4 jets, deployed from Gioia del Colle, engaged in two separate strikes in the Libyan city of Sirte, birthplace of Colonel Gaddafi, launching three Brimstone missiles which destroyed one main battle tank and two surface-to-air missile launchers.
This follows action for RAF Tornados over the weekend when RAF Typhoon aircraft also continued to patrol the no-fly zone.
On Saturday, RAF Tornado aircraft conducting a series of armed air reconnaissance and overwatch patrols over Libya launched Paveway IV missiles against military assets of pro-Gaddafi forces. Two main battle tanks in Sirte and several small ground attack aircraft on an airfield near Misurata were hit.
On Sunday, RAF Tornados again successfully launched attacks with Paveway IV and Brimstone missiles to target a group of ten armoured fighting vehicles south of Sirte.
During today’s visit, Mr Cameron announced the deployment of a further four RAF Tornado jets to Gioia del Colle to assist the military effort.
The additional aircraft are deploying to bolster the UK’s ground attack capability in support of the NATO-led operation. The first two Tornados arrived yesterday with the remaining aircraft due to join them later today.
Two of the original deployment of ten RAF Typhoons, which have been held in reserve to police the no-fly zone, have now returned to the UK. The return of these aircraft does not affect the UK’s contribution to the enforcement of UNSCR 1973.