The use of Scud missiles by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could harm civilians, but has as much chance of changing the military course of the war as "throwing dishes against a wall", NATO said on Tuesday.
NATO confirmed information from a US defence official that Libyan government forces launched a Scud-type missile for the first time in the six-month civil war on Sunday but that the rocket landed in the desert and caused no damage.
While such a missile could hurt civilians, it would not have a military impact, the Western alliance said.
NATO said the attack was a sign of growing desperation among government loyalists, who lost strategic positions in recent days to rebels fighting to oust Gaddafi, and did not suggest an escalation of force.
"The Scud-type missile ... is a type of armament that does not represent a new threat," Colonel Roland Lavoie, a NATO military spokesman, told a news briefing in Brussels.
"Our assessment is that the Gaddafi regime does not have any more an effective operational capability. It could certainly ... throw dishes against the wall to make a bit of noise, but we do not believe it could generate a significant operational effect with that type of weaponry," he said.
Lavoie said NATO has used its firepower in recent months to eliminate Gaddafi's ability launch his ageing Soviet-era Scud missiles, which have an estimated range of about 185 miles (300 km), and government forces were running out of the rockets.
NATO has conducted air strikes in Libya since the end of March to fulfil a United Nations mandate calling for military action to protect civilians in the Libyan conflict.
"Since the beginning of our presence we have engaged repeatedly several pieces of heavy armament, including Scud launchers ... including very recently, just a few days ago," Lavoie said.
But he said the use of the missile, which NATO said landed 5 km (3 miles) east of the rebel-held town of Brega, underlined the need for NATO to remain engaged in Libya. The rocket was fired from near Sirte, Gaddafi's home town 500 km (300 miles) east of Tripoli.
"Unfortunately the threat against Brega is not over yet," Lavoie said.
"Although the surface-to-surface missiles in Gaddafi's arsenal are highly inaccurate -- they are not designed to hit a specific target -- they are a weapons of terror. Their use against and urban or industrial area is utterly irresponsible."
NATO aircraft have conducted nearly 20,000 sorties over Libya since late March, hitting hundreds of military installations and damaging equipment. It has damaged or destroyed 150 targets in the last week.