British prime minister David Cameron has been told by UK intelligence that Muammar Gaddafi is increasingly paranoid, on the run, and hiding in hospitals by night, and that his senior commanders in the regime are unable to communicate with one another.
The reports from MI6 relayed to the cabinet's national security council this week prompted Cameron to authorise a high-risk escalation of attacks by agreeing to deploy four Apache helicopters into Libya with orders to gun down regime leaders and assets hiding in built-up areas.
The French had leaked that Britain was likely to deploy helicopters, but the Whitehall ministerial decision was only made on Friday.
The taking of the decision was confirmed by British officials attending the G8 summit of world leaders. Diplomatic sources, sounding more confident than at any point since the air assaults, claimed: "He is on the run."
Gaddafi's regime made its most plaintive plea yet for a ceasefire, by offering to talk to anti-government rebels, move towards a constitutional government, and compensate victims of the three-month conflict.
The Apaches' deployment from HMS Ocean touring off the Albanian coast was confirmed by government sources. They will be joined by French helicopters under Nato command. The Apaches can fly as low as 1,000 feet and fire heat-seeking missiles to destroy a vast array of targets; they will require close on-the-ground co-ordination probably using UK special forces and rebel leaders.
Their use has in part been necessitated by Gaddafi trying to hide his military assets in built-up areas that can only be attacked by Tornados at the risk of massive civilian casualties.