POLL: A price worth paying..? Precision weapons used by Marham jets push cost of Libyan conflict to �250m

Precisions weapons used by the RAF to avoid civilian casualties have sent the cost of the Libyan conflict soaring, it emerged today.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox today said avoiding civilian casualties was driving up costs for the military campaign in Libya ahead of an expected announcement that the bill has hit �250m.

However, Dr Fox insisted the spending was worth it because it showed Britain held the 'higher moral ground'.

Tornado aircaft from RAF Marham have used sophisticated smart bombs and guided missiles to carry out pinpoint strikes on radar installations, anti-aircraft batteries and armoured vehicles.

Storm Shadow cruise missiles - used in the first raids in the conflict, when aircraft flew sories from Norfolk to Libya - cost �750,000 each.

Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander sparked speculation about the price of operations at the weekend when he suggested it was running into 'hundreds of millions'.

The figure was far higher than the tens of millions predicted by Chancellor George Osborne when the campaign against Muammar Gaddafi's forces began in March.

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Some experts are suggesting the cost could rise to �1bn if raids drag on into the autumn. The spending is being met from Government reserves rather than normal budgets.

Speaking ahead of his written statement to the House of Commons, Dr Fox said people would 'have to take into account that we have used more expensive precision weaponry so that we minimise civilian casualties in Libya'.

'And if we are going to fight operations in the future based on minimising civilian casualties there is clearly a financial price to pay,' he said.

'But I think that that shows that we are on the moral high ground and that we place a higher value on human life that the Gaddafi regime does.'

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that British forces can maintain the current level of operations in Libya despite concerns raised by senior military figures.

He told MPs the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) had allowed for flexibility in the armed forces.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant, the RAF's second in command, has said operations in Afghanistan and Libya were together placing a 'huge' demand on resources.

Last week, head of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope questioned the sustainability of current military operations, saying the Government would have to make 'challenging decisions' if the Libya mission lasted more than six months.

Mr Cameron warned the top brass: 'You do the fighting and I'll do the talking.'

Cracks in the Nato-led coalition appeared to surface yesterday with Italy calling for a ceasefire.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has called for the 'immediate suspension' of hostilities in Libya to allow humanitarian supplies to reach areas around the rebel-held city of Misrata and Gaddafi's capital Tripoli.

But Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman told reporters that Italy had formally reaffirmed its commitment to the mission as recently as Monday, when EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg.

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