The United States stepped up its military assistance to the NATO mission in Libya slightly this week, sending in two additional Predator drones to fly combat air patrols, a senior defense official told NBC News.
The unarmed Predators arrived in the region Monday and flew their first surveillance mission over Libya on Tuesday.
On Sunday morning, Gadhafi military forces near Sirte fired the first SCUD missile since this conflict began. The SCUD landed in the desert, about 50 miles east of Brega, but did not cause any casualties.
A U.S. military official could not say how many — if any — SCUD missiles Gadhafi’s forces may have in their arsenal still. SCUD missiles have a range of more than 200 miles but are notoriously inaccurate.
Just six weeks before the Sept. 27 mandated end date for the NATO mission in Libya, defense officials warn that that country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, is no closer to stepping down and leaving the country.
“We have no indication” that he will step down any time soon, a senior defense official said, adding that if the political objectives set for the NATO mission are not fulfilled before that date, “it will have to be extended.”
U.S. defense officials confirm that, at this rate, the U.S. military part of the mission in Libya will cost the United States more than $1 billion before it is over.
The Predators will, of course, increase that overall cost.