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PM hails UK''s role in Libya despite defense cuts

LONDON, Sept 2 (KUNA) -- The UK's armed forces played a significant role in Libya despite cuts in defence spending, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday. The Prime Minister insisted the UK had been "punching at our weight or even above our weight" in the conflict with the RAF carrying out around a fifth of all strike sorties against Muammar Gaddafi's forces. He dismissed claims that the USA saw the UK as a "weak ally" as a result of the slashed defence budget. Cameron told the BBC Radio that the UK had played a major role even though it no longer had an aircraft carrier as a result of decisions in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. He said: "If you look at the number of strike sorties, there were less than 8,000, somewhere just less than 8,000. "Britain performed 1,600 of those, so around a fifth of strike sorties and I think that is punching, as it were, at our weight or even above our weight." France stationed a carrier off the Libyan coast, but Cameron said the RAF had played a leading role from a base in Italy. The Prime Minister said: "Because we have basing ability all over the Mediterranean I don't think we did suffer from not having an aircraft carrier.
" Cameron added: "You have to make difficult decisions in defence reviews, but I think the decision we made to keep Tornado rather than Harrier was the right decision because Tornado is the more capable aircraft." He said in future the UK would have one of the best carriers in the world. "The question for us in the defence review was 'how are you going to deal with this appalling inheritance you have got, a defence budget 38 billion pounds overspent, how are you going to handle this transition?' "We took the decision to keep the Tornado because it's such a capable aircraft, proved once again in Libya, and to go ahead with building the aircraft carrier but to accept that there was going to be a gap between now and then. "I believe it's the right decision, there's a lot of military evidence to say that's the right decision, but in future we will have one of the most capable aircraft carriers anywhere in the world." The Prime Minister denied claims that the UK had run out of munitions for operations in Libya and that cuts in European defence spending were frustrating the Americans. Cameron continued: "I really want to challenge this idea that somehow the Americans see us as a weak ally. They don't, they see us as their strongest and most staunch ally." He added: "We spend 35 billion pounds on defence, that is the figure for 2011. In 2015 we will still be spending around that number, there is not a cash cut in defence spending. "At the end of this process we will have a nuclear deterrent, we will have a fleet of new submarines, we will have a brand new aircraft carrier, we are going to have the Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter in terms of our air force, we are going to have brand new destroyers, the best built anywhere in the world. "We are going to be a full spectrum defence player. We should be very proud of our armed services and what they do." (end) he.ajs KUNA 021834 Sep 11NNNN