Well, it finally happened, the Predator drones ordered to Libya by the Pentagon last week took out their first target on April 23, a rocket launcher being used by Gadhafi's troops to hit civilians in the besieged city of Misurata; the same day reports surfaced that regime forces were withdrawing from the city after a two month siege that was met with stiff rebel resistance.
While it's impossible to draw a direct correlation between the arrival of the drones and the withdrawal of government troops, DoD says the drones can hit targets in the cities in a way that NATO jets have so far been held back from doing.
When Pentagon officials announced the arrival of two combat air patrols of the unmanned strike planes earlier this week, they said the drones provided the best capability, even better than AC-130 gunships or A-10 Warthogs, to loiter close to the fighting and find and kill Gadhafi's troops who have been using civilians as cover. As Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said last week:
What they will bring that is unique to the -- to the conflict is their ability to get down lower, therefore to be able to get better visibility on particularly targets now that have started to dig themselves in into defensive positions. They’re uniquely suited for areas -- urban areas where you can get low collateral damage. And so we’re trying to manage that collateral damage obviously, but that’s the best platform to do that with; their extended persistence on the target -- they’re out there for a full day working the targets.He added:
And so you have those capabilities, in addition to being able to get in targets where -- out in the open where collateral damage is a worry, for instance, around ammo depots and things like that, that you want to hit -- particularly a vehicle but you don’t want to hit the depot and have the secondaries.
So it brings some capabilities to the NATO commander that they didn’t have before.
The character of the fight has changed also. I mean, the introduction of the air and the capability that NATO’s brought -- things that are out in the open, know that they’re going to probably perish if a NATO bird sees them.
So you’re seeing a much more dispersed fight, people that are digging in or nestling up against crowded areas, where collateral damage is.
The other issue out there that we’re trying to struggle with is the -- now you have the intermixing of the lines, so to speak. So 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 us.