Britain said on Wednesday it was moving four Typhoon jets from policing the Libya no-fly zone to ground attack roles after criticism from rebels that NATO forces were failing to protect Misrata.
“In agreement with NATO, the UK has today agreed to move four RAF Typhoons from an air defence role, policing the no-fly zone, to a ground attack role,” said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a statement.
The move was aimed at “further bolstering NATO’s ground attack capability,” added the MoD.
Previously, the Typhoons, based at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, had been policing the no-fly zone while the RAF’s Tornado warplanes carried out attacks on Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s ground forces.
The move came after the top commander of Libyan rebel forces, Abdelfatah Yunis, accused NATO-led aircraft of doing nothing while loyalist forces bombarded civilians in Misrata, 214 kilometres (132 miles) east of Tripoli.
NATO “is letting the people of Misrata die every day”, Yunis told reporters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi late on Tuesday.
In response, NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero insisted that “Misrata is our number one priority.”
Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Monday during a visit to Gioia del Colle that London was sending four more Tornados for the operation.
Britain now has 20 fighter jets committed to the action to enforce a UN resolution aimed at protecting civilians from Kadhafi’s forces.
The MoD also said that British jets on Tuesday bombed six armoured fighting vehicles and six tanks from pro-Kadhafi forces around Misrata and Sirte, Kadhafi’s birthplace.