PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to deploy attack helicopters in Libya, the first to be used in the coalition against Muammar Gaddafi's forces, a French newspaper reported on Monday.
Twelve helicopters were shipped out to Libya on French battleship Tonnerre on May 17, daily Le Figaro reported, to help break a military stalemate three months into an uprising against Gaddafi's four-decade rule.
"Using helicopters from the Tonnerre is a way of getting closer to the ground," the newspaper said, citing a source close to the matter.
An Armed Forces spokesman declined to confirm the report, but said the ship in question could carry helicopters.
French planes were the first to bomb Gaddafi's forces in March after the United Nations voted to allow intervention to protect civilians.
The air strikes, now led by NATO, were launched as Gaddafi's troops advanced on Benghazi after the Libyan leader vowed "no mercy, no pity."
Many NATO members refuse to go beyond enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone to attack Gaddafi's forces, despite the urging of France, Britain and the United States, which all want to see Gaddafi removed from power.
The NATO campaign has crippled Tripoli's ability to attack rebels, but rebel advances have also stalled.
According to Le Figaro's source, French special forces, who have been operating in Libya to help identify targets for NATO planes since the start of air strikes, could now be reinforced and deployed to guide helicopter attacks.
Analysts say NATO may have no choice but to escalate its Libyan war effort and use helicopters or naval gunfire to end bloodshed particularly in the besieged city of Misrata and break the military deadlock.
(Reporting by Vicky Buffery, John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Andrew Heavens)