WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has approved the use of armed
drones in Libya, authorizing U.S. airstrikes on ground forces for the
first time since America turned over control of the operation to NATO on
It also is the first time that drones will be used for airstrikes
since the conflict began on March 19, although they have routinely been
flying surveillance missions, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told
reporters at a Pentagon briefing Thursday.
He said the U.S. will provide up to two 24-hour combat air patrols each day by the unmanned Predators.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, said the drones can help counteract the pro-Gadhafi forces’
tactic of traveling in civilian vehicles that make it difficult to
distinguish them from rebel forces.
“What they will bring that is unique to the conflict is their ability
to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on
targets that have started to dig themselves into defensive positions,”
Cartwright said. “They are uniquely suited for urban areas.”
He added, “It’s very difficult to pick friend from foe. So a vehicle
like the Predator that can get down lower and can get IDs better helps
Gates rejected the notion that the approval of drone strikes means
that the U.S. will slowly get pu…