On 31 May, former special forces soldiers from the UK and private security companies began to help Nato identify targets in the city of Misrata, the scene of heavy fighting between forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and rebels.

They are expected to provide information for the pilots of British and French helicopters, who are expected to start firing at targets in and around Misrata.

Four Apache helicopters are on board the UK’s HMS Ocean, which is approaching Libyan waters. Twelve French Tiger helicopters are on the amphibious assault ship Tonnerre, which is also understood to be within striking distance of Libya.