Britain pulls Apache helicopters from Libya mission

26 September 2011 - 19:50 By Sapa-AFP

Britain said Monday it has agreed with NATO to withdraw the five Apache helicopters that it has in service over Libya, in a major sign that the alliance's air mission is winding down.

Britain deployed the army attack helicopters in June to support forces fighting then-leader Muammar Gaddafi. The choppers were based on the Royal Navy carrier HMS Ocean which has been based in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Given the current situation in Libya, NATO has agreed with the UK that HMS Ocean and her helicopter detachment can be released from Operation Unified Protector," said Major General Nick Pope, spokesman for Britain's Chief of Defence Staff.

"The vessel is offloading equipment in Souda Bay and in due course will proceed through the Suez Canal en route to the Red Sea," Pope said in a statement.

British warplanes continued their mission on Monday, attacking a series of targets in Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte on Sunday including a command and control installation and a psychological warfare centre, added Pope.

Last Wednesday, British Defence Minister Liam Fox had said that the "good progress made to date" would allow the country to bring home four Typhoon fast jets and three Apaches.

NATO allies on the same day decided to extend their air campaign in Libya by another 90 days but said the mission would remain under constant review following the toppling of Gaddafi earlier this month.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed last week to maintain the no-fly zone which has been used to justify NATO air strikes against Gaddafi targets and came into force in March.