US and British forces have fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles
into Libya against Muammar Gaddafi's air defence sites.
America's Admiral William Gortney said that "earlier this afternoon
(today AEDT) over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both US and
British ships and submarines struck more than 20 integrated air defence
systems and other air defence facilities ashore".
Meanwhile, Libyan state television said a French warplane was shot down
in the Njela district of Tripoli.
West pounds Libya, Kadhafi vows retaliation
AFP March 20, 2011, 10:07 am
TRIPOLI (AFP) - The US, Britain and France pounded Libya with air
strikes and Tomahawk missiles on Saturday, sparking a furious response
from Moamer Kadhafi who said the Mediterranean had now become a
United States and British forces fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise
missiles at Libya's air defence sites, a top US military officer said,
two days after a UN Security Council resolution with Arab backing
authorised military action.
Libyan state media said that Western warplanes bombed civilian targets
in Tripoli, causing casualties while an army spokesman said strikes also
hit fuel tanks feeding the rebel-held city of Misrata, east of Tripoli.
Libyan state television said a French warplane was shot down in the
Njela district of Tripoli, but the French military swiftly denied the
Kadhafi, in a brief audio message broadcast on state television,
fiercely denounced the attacks as a "barbaric, unjustified Crusaders'
He vowed retaliatory strikes on military and civilian targets in the
Mediterranean, which he said had been turned into a "real battlefield."
"Now the arms depots have been opened and all the Libyan people are
being armed," to fight against Western forces, the veteran leader warned.
US President Barack Obama, on a visit to Brazil, said he had given the
green light for the operation, which is codenamed "Odyssey Dawn."
"Today, I authorised the armed forces of the United States to begin a
limited military action in Libya," Obama said in Brasilia.
The first missile struck at 1900 GMT following air strikes carried out
earlier by French warplanes, Admiral William Gortney, director of the US
joint staff, said in Washington.
"It's a first phase of a multi-phase operation" to enforce the UN
resolution and prevent the Libyan regime from using force "against its
own people," he said.
One British submarine joined with other US ships and submarines in the
missile attacks, he said.
The first strikes took place near Libya's coast, notably around Tripoli
and Misrata, "because that's where the integrated missile defence
US and allied countries are not yet enforcing a no-fly zone with
aircraft patrolling the skies, he said, but "we're setting the
conditions to be able to reach that state."
The targets included surface-to-air missile sites but it was too early
to say how effective the Tomahawk strikes were, he said.
"Because it is night over there, it will be some time before we have a
complete picture of the success of these strikes," the admiral said.
The US operation followed initial missions by French warplanes, which
carried out four air strikes Saturday, destroying several armoured
vehicles from Kadhafi's forces.
State television said hundreds of people had gathered at Bab
al-Aziziyah, Kadhafi's Tripoli headquarters, and at the capital's
international airport, ahead of the widely anticipated air strikes.
"Crowds are forming around the targets identified by France," the
television reported, showing pictures of flag-waving people gathering to
serve as human shields.
Last week, a highly placed French source referred to Bab al-Aziziyah, a
military air base in Sirte, east of the capital, and another in Sebha in
the south as likely targets of a strike.
A French official told AFP that air strikes by Britain, France and the
US Libyan territory are being coordinated at a US headquarters in Germany.
Russia's foreign ministry expressed regret over the attacks under a
Security Council Resolution 1973 which was "adopted in haste," while the
African Union, which opposed military action, aims to send a delegation
to Tripoli on Sunday.
But British Prime Minister David Cameron said he held Kadhafi
responsible for the situation in his country and that "the time for
action" by the international community had come.
"Colonel Kadhafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international
community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He
continues to brutalise his own people," Cameron told British television.
France said the air strikes would continue through the night.
In the rebel camp, celebratory gunfire and honking of car horns broke
out in Al-Marj, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Benghazi, to welcome the
start of military operations against Kadhafi, correspondents said.
Thousands earlier Saturday fled Benghazi as Kadhafi loyalists pounded
the eastern city, the rebels' stronghold, with shells and tank fire
after two early morning air strikes.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was troubled by a telephone call from
Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi on Friday night.
"He told me that the Libyan government was fully abiding by the Security
Council resolution and there will be an immediate ceasefire," said the
"But at the same time and overnight they were attacking Benghazi. It is
very troubling; whatever they say must be verified."
Since Friday, the Libyan government has insisted it was observing a
self-declared ceasefire, shortly after the Security Council voted to
authorise the use of force against Kadhafi's troops to spare civilians.
The regime said its armed forces were under attack west of Benghazi,
including by rebel aircraft, and had responded in self-defence.
But the rebels, who have been trying to overthrow the Libyan leader for
more than a month, said government troops had continued to bombard
cities, violating the ceasefire continuously.
In another Middle East hotspot, medics in Yemen on Saturday raised to 52
the death toll from a sniper attack on protesters in Sanaa the previous
day, as thousands rallied despite a state of emergency.
The slaughter in Sanaa on Friday was the bloodiest day in weeks of
unrest that have shaken the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a
key US ally in its war against Al-Qaeda.
And security forces in Syria fired tear gas on Saturday at mourners
burying two men killed in a protest in the southern city of Daraa the
previous day, wounding several, rights activists said.
The official SANA news agency said a committee was being formed to
investigate the "regrettable" events in Daraa.
In Bahrain, beleaguered King Hamad pledged to bring in reforms as
Shiite-led pro-democracy protesters against the Sunni monarchy said they
would not give up despite being cleared by police from Pearl Square in
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