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March 8th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Libya's helicopter forces are greatest threat, U.S. Marine chief says

Jennifer Rizzo
CNN National Security Producer

Washington (CNN) - Libya's helicopter forces are its greatest threat, the head of the Marine Corps said Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos about Libya's air capabilities during a committee hearing held to discuss the Navy's portion of the 2012 Defense budget request.

"I think it's modest," Amos responded. "I think probably their greatest threat are their helicopter-type forces."

Helicopters would be more difficult to target if the international community set up a no-fly zone. Such a zone would typically be enforced by fighter jets whose speed and altitude make it difficult to target helicopters, which move low and slow.

Amos didn't know how many helicopters and fixed wing aircraft the Libyan government has but said the forces are predominately concentrated in four airbases around Tripoli.

"Has it been your experience in combat if the enemy controls the air above, particularly in terrain like Libya, it gives them an enormous advantage," McCain asked.

Amos would not answer the question directly, calling the environment where the Gadhafi forces are located "very complex."

"Sir, I think there are several things that would give the enemy enormous advantage. One is the ground movement of forces, vehicles, movement on the ground," Amos said. "So I think it's more than just aviation."

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