NATO has stepped up its attacks on Libyan government forces, using attack helicopters in the north African country for the first time.

Two British Apache helicopters attacked a radar installation and a military checkpoint overnight, near the eastern coastal city of Brega, before returning to HMS Ocean, according to a statement from the ministry of defence in London

French helicopters also carried out a mission that began late Friday and continued into Saturday, but there are no details regarding the location.

However, the French military released a statement saying the targets of the Gazelle and Tigre helicopters included 15 military vehicles and five military command buildings.

The French helicopters took off from the helicopter transport ship Tonnerre in the Mediterranean, Col. Thierry Burkhard said.

The military alliance said the helicopters also struck Gadhafi troops attempting to hide in populated areas.

NATO airstrikes against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces began in March to counter strikes against civilian targets. France and Britain announced last month they would be making attack helicopters available in the campaign.

Until now, NATO has relied on attack jets, generally flying above 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) — nearly five kilometres high — and pounding Gadhafi targets in relentless overnight bombings.

The helicopters give the alliance a key advantage in close-up combat, flying at much lower altitudes.


With files from The Associated Press