Eight Italian combat aircraft will be directly involved in airstrikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said on Wednesday.
The strike group comprises four Tornado fighter jets and four AV8 Harrier attack aircraft.
"The planes and the pilots are ready and will be assigned to take part in airstrikes immediately," La Russa announced at a meeting with Italian lawmakers.
An additional four Italian F-16 fighters are taking part in patrolling the Libyan skies in line with the UN-authorized enforcement of a no-fly zone over the North African country.
The Italian defense minister insisted that NATO airstrikes were "absolutely necessary" to continue applying pressure on the Gaddafi regime.
A total of 14 of the 28 NATO countries are taking part in the operation Unified Protector in Libya, which includes airstrikes, a no-fly zone and naval enforcement of an arms embargo.
The alliance has stepped up airstrikes around Tripoli and four other major cities in recent days.
Despite dozens of sorties carried out by NATO aircraft against Gaddafi's forces, the government troops maintain their combat capability and continue to pound poorly-equipped rebels with heavy artillery and rocket fire.
ROME, April 27 (RIA Novosti)