Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday that President Obama has approved the use of armed Predator drone aircraft for use in Libya. The first missions of the drones, equipped with Hellfire missiles, took place yesterday as well. This marks a return of active US military involvement in the conflict in Libya, although in this sort of semi-abstracted sort of involvement that goes along with drone missions. Drones had already been operating in the region but only for surveillance.

Gen. Cartwright said the drones will initially focus on targets in and around Misurata, a rebel-held city that has been under relentless siege by Qaddafi's forces. High-flying NATO planes have been unable to get close enough to carry out accurate strikes. Drones could help fill that gap - but if they are unable to slow Qaddafi's forces' attacks, the US could be put under pressure to send manned aircraft in, reports The Los Angeles Times.

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