Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced at a Pentagon briefing that President Obama has authorized the use of armed Predator drones over Libya. The unmanned planes have been used extensively in the Afghanistan and Pakistan missions, among other places. In fact, an amendment to the latest FAA Authorization bill, if passed by Congress, would allow for the use of drones in US airspace. So why not Libya?

Drawing another line in the sand after crossing several, Gates said that the President was holding firm on ground troops in Libya, vowing not to send them. Regime change “was always a political goal” best accomplished from inside Libya, Gates said, and the US role in the conflict was to provide space for that regime change by reducing Moammar Gadhafi’s military capability.

So far, that hasn’t been entirely successful, with the eastern front stalemated and Gadhafi forces still shelling Misurata. In fact, the success announced today, that rebels have secured part of the western border with Tunisia, was accomplished without the use of any coalition planes at all.

However, there’s this pressure to “do more” to help the rebels, and so here come the drones. Marine General James Cartwright said in the briefing that the drones are “uniquely suited” for urban combat areas to minimize civilian casualties. I’m sure that will come as a great comfort to Afghan wedding parties. And the Pakistani government, which called for an end to the drone program a couple weeks ago.