Statement to MPs comes shortly before ABC News report that French fighter jet had shot down Libyan aircraft
William Hague faced mild embarrassment when he told MPs Libyan military aircraft were unable to take to the air as news emerged that French fighter jets had shot down an aircraft.
In a statement to MPs on the military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, the foreign secretary said coalition forces had successfully established a no-fly zone after “comprehensively” degrading Libya’s air defence system.
Hague added: “There are no Libyan military aircraft flying.”
But shortly after he spoke to MPs, ABC News reported that a French fighter jet had shot down a single-engine Libyan Galeb plane.
The Associated Press later quoted a US official as confirming that a French jet had attacked and destroyed a Libyan plane.
The news emerged after Hague had updated MPs on the progress of the military campaign against Gaddafi’s regime. The foreign secretary said the allied action was saving lives and protecting hundreds of thousands of civilians in Benghazi and Mistrata.
Hague told the Commons: “UK forces have undertaken a total of 59 aerial missions over Libya in addition to air and missile strikes.
“Last night, our forces again participated in a co-ordinated strike against Libyan air defence systems. A no-fly zone has now been established and the regime’s integrated air defence system has been comprehensively degraded. There are no Libyan military aircraft flying.
“Over 150 coalition planes have been involved in military operations, including Typhoon and Tornado aircraft from the Royal Air Force.
“Thirteen nations have currently deployed aircraft to the region. A number of additional nations have made offers of aircraft and other military support, which are in the process of being agreed. Royal Navy vessels are in the region supporting the arms embargo.”
The foreign secretary expressed confidence that agreement would be met on running the military campaign after the US gives up its command.
Nato ambassadors are meeting in Brussels to reach agreement after Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed on Tuesday night the campaign should be run by a two-tier structure. This would see Nato running the military command with a separate political structure – including members of the coalition outside Nato – to provide political oversight.
Hague said: “On the question of command and control, we are still working some of that out. The simplest and most effective solution is for all of these operations to come under the North Atlantic Council [Nato's main political decision-making body] and for other countries to plug into that, to work with that.
“We have made a great deal of progress. We should understand this is a new coalition, put together very quickly for obvious reasons last week, and so there are bound to be issues to sort out in its management.
“But we are getting through those pretty well. I will be discussing the remaining issues with Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and with my French and Turkish counterparts later this afternoon to try to iron out the remaining difficulties on future Nato command and control.
“The nations involved in this operation – their representatives are able to meet in Brussels on a regular basis.”