New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) The Indian Air Force (IAF) is ready to evacuate, if called on to do so, the Indians stranded in Libya by the violent anti-government protests in the north African country, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Tuesday.
"The navy has sent its warships. The air force is also ready (with its aircraft). Whether it is (for) Libya or other countries, if the government wants their services, they can also be sent," Antony told reporters on the sidelines of a defence event here.
He was responding to a question whether the defence ministry was considering deploying IAF aircraft for evacuating Indians stranded in Libya.
The IAF's heavylift IL-76 transport aircraft, which can carry about 200 passengers in a double-decker seating mode, are on standby in case the government requires their services, an officer said.
The Navy had Saturday sent three ships, including the troop carrier INS Jalashwa and the destroyer INS Mysore for the evacuation operation. The ships are expected to reach Benghazi in Libya early next week. They will transport the stranded Indians to Alexandria in Egypt, from where they will be flown home on Air India aircraft.
Air India has been operating two flights a day to Tripoli since Saturday and this has seen the return of some 1,300 of the 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya after political protests seeking the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi have turned violent in the last fortnight.
India has also sought permission for Air India flights to land in interior Libya to evacuation about 1,000 Indian said to be stranded there.
Three chartered civilian vessels are also part of the evacuation effort.
Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, at another event, said: "Eventually, we should be pressed to evacuate (all the Indians stranded in Libya). The numbers we can carry (on our warships) is substantial. On Jalashwa, we can carry 1,500 at one go and so I see there would be enough work to be done."
The evacuation is th biggest mounted by this country after the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that forced thousands of Indians in the country to flee to Jordan capital Amman, from where they were flown home on Air India aircraft.