London: International Strikeforce Fire Over 100 Missiles At Libyan Targets: UPDATED

20 Mar

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

This Saturday, March 19, 2011 photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) as it launches
AP – This Saturday, March 19, 2011 photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile …

Anti-government protests in Libya Slideshow:Anti-government protests in Libya

Obama OKs missile strikes on Libya, no ground troops Play Video Barack Obama Video:Obama OKs missile strikes on Libya, no ground troops AFP

 
By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer :

WASHINGTON – U.S. and British ships and submarines launched the first phase of a missile assault on Libyan air defenses Saturday and a senior American defense official said it was believed substantial damage was inflicted.

In the strikes, 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya’s air force.

While U.S. defense officials cautioned that it was too early to fully gauge the impact of the onslaught, the official said that given the precision targeting of the Navy’s cruise missiles, they felt that Libya’s air defenses suffered a good deal of damage.

The official spoke on grounds of anonymity because the ongoing mission.

In announcing the mission during a visit to Brazil, President Barack Obama said he was reluctant to resort to force but was convinced it was necessary to save the lives of civilians. He reiterated that he would not send American ground troops to Libya.

“We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy,” he said in Brasilia.

While U.S. defense officials said it was too early to gauge the impact of the onslaught, one senior official said that given the precision targeting of the Navy’s cruise missiles, they believe Libya’s air defenses suffered a good deal of damage.

It was clear the U.S. intended to limit its role in the Libya intervention, focusing first on disabling or otherwise silencing Libyan air defenses, and then leaving it to European and perhaps Arab countries to enforce a no-fly zone over the North African nation.

Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters the cruise missile assault was the “leading edge” of a coalition campaign dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn. Its aim: prevent Moammar Gadhafi’s forces from inflicting more violence on civilians — particularly in and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi — and degrading the Libyan military’s ability to contest a no-fly zone.

“This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought,” Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. “Our consensus was strong, and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency.”

A chief target of Saturday’s cruise missile attack was Libya’s SA-5 surface-to-air missiles, which are considered a moderate threat to some allied aircraft. Libya’s overall air defenses are based on older Soviet technology but Gortney called them capable and a potential threat to allied aircraft.

Also targeted: early warning radars and unspecified communications facilities, Gortney said. The U.S. military has extensive recent experience in such combat missions; U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft repeatedly attacked Iraq’s air defenses during the 1990s while enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq’s Kurdish north.

Cruise missiles are the weapon of first choice in such campaigns; they do not put pilots at risk, and they use navigational technologies that provide good precision.

The first Tomahawk cruise missiles struck at 3 p.m. EDT, Gortney said, after a one-hour flight from the U.S. and British vessels on station in the Mediterranean.

They were fired from five U.S. ships — the guided-missile destroyers USS Stout and USS Barry, and three submarines, USS Providence, USS Scranton and USS Florida.

The U.S. has at least 11 naval vessels in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers, two amphibious warfare ships and the USS Mount Whitney, a command-and-control vessel that is the flagship of the Navy’s 6th Fleet. Also in the area are Navy P-3 and EP-3 surveillance aircraft, officials said.

Gortney initially had said that it could take as long as 12 hours to assess the effectiveness of Saturday’s strikes. Then a high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane would overfly the target areas to get a more precise view, the admiral said. He would not say how long the attacks on Libyan air defenses would last, but he stressed that Saturday’s assault with cruise missiles was the first phase of a multi-stage mission.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was scheduled to fly to Russia on Saturday afternoon to begin a week-long overseas trip, postponed his departure for 24 hours. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates decided he should remain in Washington to monitor developments in Libya at the outset of U.S. strikes.

Gates had been skeptical of getting involved in Libya’s civil war, telling Congress earlier this month that taking out Libya’s air defenses was tantamount to war. Others have worried that the mission could put the U.S. on a slippery slope to deeper involvement in yet another Muslim country — on top of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hours after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attended an international conference in Paris that endorsed military action against Gadhafi, the U.S. and Britain kicked off their attacks.

At a news conference in Paris, Clinton said Gadhafi had left the world no choice but to intervene urgently and forcefully to protect further loss of civilian life.

“We have every reason to fear that, left unchecked, Gadhafi would commit unspeakable atrocities,” she told reporters.

Clinton said there was no evidence that Gadhafi’s forces were respecting an alleged cease-fire they proclaimed and the time for action was now.

“Our assessment is that the aggressive action by Gadhafi’s forces continues in many parts of the country,” she said. “We have seen no real effort on the part of the Gadhafi forces to abide by a cease-fire.”

In addition to the three submarines and two destroyers, the U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean include two amphibious warships, the USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, and a command-and-control ship, the USS Mount Whitney.

___

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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Britain has fired missiles at Libyan military targets as UN allies begin military strikes against Colonel Gaddafi‘s regime.

 Britain Fires Missiles At Libyan Targets Play video

Three RAF Tornado jets have left the UK, the first of the British strikeforce tasked with enforcing a no-fly zone over the country.

Co-ordinated international action has been launched after the Libyan leader defied the UN’s demand that he stop attacking his own people.

Coalition vessels have fired more than 100 Tomahawk missiles at Libya’s air defences, and British ships are also involved in a naval blockade of the country, sources have told Sky News.

Military forces have so far taken to the air and water to attack Libya. French warplanes are patrolling Libyan skies and have fired on pro-Gaddafi tanks.

Libya’s air defence systems are said to have been already “severely disabled” by the attacks.

Sky’s Lisa Holland, who is in capital Tripoli under the supervision of Libyan authorities, said there appeared to be anti-aircraft fire following loud explosions in the city, possibly from missile attacks.

Libya is claiming 48 people have been killed in missile strikes, according to the AFP news agency.

Loud blasts have been heard east of the capital Tripoli and fireballs were reportedly seen on the horizon.

The international effort also involves the US, Canada and Italy.

Speaking outside No 10 after an emergency meeting, Mr Cameron said the action was “necessary, legal and right”.

He said: “I believe we should all be confident that what we are doing is in a just cause and in our nation’s interest.”

President Barack Obama called on Col Gaddafi to pull back his troops, but said the US would not be deploying troops on the ground.

He said: “The use of force is not our first choice or a choice I made lightly. But we can’t stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy.”

Col Gaddafi has made a brief and largely unintelligible statement by phone on Libyan state television, marking his first words since military action began.

Meanwhile, Libyan state television reported the bombardment of civilian sites in Tripoli by the planes of “crusader enemies” – a reference to the West. Buildings hit so far have included two hospitals, the reports said.

The initiation of military action was revealed by Western leaders following a summit in Paris to decide how to deal with what they said was the dictator’s breach of a self-imposed ceasefire.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after the meeting that military force would be used “in the absence of an immediate ceasefire” because “the Libyan people need our help.”

Reports suggested Libyan forces intended to deploy “human shields” to thwart any UN-backed bombing campaign.

As military forces swung into action, the International Red Cross called on all sides to spare civilians and respect international law as military action began, and said medical staff and ambulances should be allowed access to the wounded.

Reports said the rebel stronghold of Benghazi has been attacked by Gaddafi’s militia, and the insurgents claim a captured warplane was shot down.

The rebel pilot of the fighter jet, which may have been shot down or suffered catastrophic engine failure, ejected moments it crashed in a fireball in Benghazi’s southern suburbs.

Sky’s Emma Hurd, who witnessed the crash, said: “It had been circling above the heavily populated areas and then it went into a fast dive and caught on fire.”

A Benghazi resident named Sam later claimed the city was being hit by rocket fire from ground forces loyal to Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

She told Sky News: “Benghazi has been under continuous bombing since around 6am this morning – it was non-stop and the windows were shaking.

“Their troops have been bombing civilian areas with no military facilities… Civilians are being attacked in Benghazi.”

But a government official insisted military forces were not being used to attack the city on Saturday, amid claims of 25 dead being taken to the city’s hospitals.

Sky News foreign editor Tim Marshall also revealed that paucity of information coming from the city of 675,000 people.

“We have very little factual detail coming out of Benghazi, instead we have claim and counter-claim,” Marshall said.

“Just as the Libyan forces are capable of using propaganda, the rebel forces are prepared to use it too, in an attempt to draw in outside forces to help their cause.”

Libya declared a ceasefire on Friday after the UN authorised the no-fly zone over the country, and the country’s deputy foreign minister later insisited in an interview with Sky News that forces would stick to it.

Regime spokesman Ibrahim Moussa later said the Gaddafi’s government remained defiant about the threat of military action.

Mr Moussa also denied government forces shelled any Libyan towns on Saturday, saying the rebels were the ones breaking the ceasefire by attacking military forces.

Reading from a letter sent by the dictator to Mr Cameron, Mr Sarkozy and the UN secretary general, he said: “You will regret it if you take a step towards intervening in our internal affairs, in our country.

“The UN security council is not authorised, according to the UN charter, to intervene in the internal affairs of any country.”

Col Gaddafi insisted the rebels are Islamists and said in the statement: “We are fighting al Qaeda, in what they call the Islamic Maghreb.”

Libya’s oil minister warned Western companies under contract to continue operating in the country otherwise Chinese and Indian oil firms may be given those rights.

:: Al Jazeera television has said a British cameraman is among a reporting team which was detained several days ago while working in west Libya.

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Video: Britain Fires Missiles At Libyan Targets

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