U.S., France Launch Military Attacks On Libya
U.S. naval forces have begun firing scores of cruise missiles at Libyan targets, including missile defense, anti-aircraft systems and airfields. The American actions came just hours after French warplanes destroyed four Libyan tanks outside Benghazi Saturday.
Pentagon sources say the United States is temporarily in command of the international effort in Libya. Forces from Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Italy have also been reported mobilizing.
Speaking from Brasilia, President Obama confirmed the U.S. attack and said he was "proud" of the involvement of U.S. forces in the action. He also said the U.S. and allied forces were responding to the plea for help from a threatened population.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also made a brief statement confirming that U.K. forces are also now engaged.
Al Jazeera reports that explosions are also being heard on the outskirts of Tripoli but cannot confirm the details.
Speaking at a Saturday afternoon Pentagon briefing, American officials say more than 110 Tomahwak cruise missiles were fired in the first U.S. barrage and were "carefully coordinated with our coalition partnets." The U.S. officials said this was merely the first phase in what will be a "multi-phase" operation.
The French jets entered Libyan airspace earlier in the day to enforce a no-fly zone imposed by the United Nations and to defend the Libyan people against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s forces.
Soon after Sarkozy's comments on Saturday the French military reported that French fighter jets had opened fire on targets in Libya, destroying a military vehicle.
That attack is the first by a UN-backed international military force in support of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, the country's long-time leader.
Around 20 aircraft are involved in operations over Libya, the French defence ministry said.
Speaking after talks in Paris between world leaders to discuss the military operation, Sarkozy said that while international force would act, the fight in Libya belonged to the Libyan people.
"If we intervene on the side of Arab nations it is not to impose on the Libyan people, but because of a universal conscience hat cannot tolerate such crimes," he said.
"We do it to protect the civilian population from the madness of a regime that, but killing its own people, has lost any legitimacy."
Sarkozy said Gadhafi still has time to stop its activities. But he said that "if there's not an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of the forces that have been attacking civilian populations in the last few weeks, our countries will have recourse to military means."
The International meeting in Paris focused on how to take on a Libyan government bent on destroying the fledgling opposition movement under the U.N. resolution authorizing force to protect civilians against the Gadhafi government.
Sarkozy said Libya's population "must not be deprived of its rights by violence and terror."
"There is still time for Colonel Gadhafi to avoid the worst, by complying immediately and unreservedly with all the demands of the international community. The doors of diplomacy will open once again when the aggression stops."
The meeting in Paris convened as reports rolled in of Gaddafi’s forces moving in on the main rebel stronghold of Benghazi, one of the first cities to fall to the opposition. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also attended the meeting and stressed that United States was a supporter, not a leader in the efforts to stop Gaddafi in Libya.
Clinton said the concern began when "the Arab League called for action" and that Friday's United Nations Security Council vote "underscored this unity."
"We will support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of Resolution 1973," Clinton said in Paris. "As you may know, French planes are already in the skies above Benghazi. Now, America has unique capabilities and we will bring them to there to help our European and Canadian allies to stop further violence towards civilians, including the effective implementation of a no-fly zone."
Secretary Clinton also stressed that the United States would not send ground troops into Libya, and that "Arab leadership and participation in this effort is crucial."
President Obama also briefly mentioned the situation in Libya after a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, was one of the nations who abstained from Friday's vote.
"Our consensus was strong and our resolve clear: the people of Libya must be protected," Obama said about discussing it with President Rousseff.
Attacks began early Saturday morning local time and continued throughout the day, including the takedown of a warcraft over the outskirts of Benghazi.
Starting at about 3 a.m., intermittent rocket fire began to hit the outskirts of Benghazi and by dawn, had drawn closer. At least three homes in the Hay Dolar area in the south of the city took rocket damage, say two witnesses who visited the homes.
“We were promised international action if Qaddafi threatened civilians,” says Nasser, a 21-year old Libyan volunteering with a neighborhood watch group in Hay Dolar. “Where is it? I’ve been in houses today that were bombed. Thank God, no one was killed, but people will start dying soon if this continues.”
By 8 a.m., at least three fires burned within the city, in areas that had come under assault. At around 9 a.m., a fighter jet in flames crashed in the south of the city, sending up a fireball and a billowing cloud of black smoke over the sky.
Most witnesses presumed the plane had been shot down, though whether it was one of Qaddafi’s planes – which have been regularly used to bomb Libyan towns in the east of the country in the past week – could not be confirmed. By 10 a.m., tank fire was ringing out every 15 minutes or so.
Late Friday, Gaddafi released two statements to world leaders in an attempt to prevent any action on the warring country after President Obama issued a stern warning to him. Libyan leaders, instead, insisted the opposition was provoking all violence.
From The Washington Post:
To Obama, he wrote: “If Libya and the US enter into a war you will always remain my son, and I have love for you.” Libya is battling al-Qaeda, he said, seeking Obama’s advice. “How would you behave so that I can follow your example?” he asked.
In the other letter, addressed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the leaders of France and Britain, he warned that the entire region would be destabilized if they pursued strikes against Libya. “You will regret it if you take a step to intervene in our internal affairs,” he wrote.
Government spokesman Ibrahim Musa said rebels, not government forces, were the ones breaking the cease-fire by attacking military forces, the Associated Press reported. “Our armed forces continue to retreat and hide, but the rebels keep shelling us and provoking us,” he said.