BREAKING NEWS: Paris: World Intervenes In Libya With Speed: UPDATED

20 Mar

LATEST NEWS UPDATES:

William E. Gortney
AP – In this picture provided by the Department of Defense, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, Director of the …

President Obama's Statement on Libya Play Video Barack Obama Video:President Obama’s Statement on Libya ABC News

By Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy Maria Golovnina And Michael Georgy:

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Western forces hit targets along the Libyan coast on Saturday, using strikes from air and sea to force Muammar Gaddafi’s troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians.

Libyan state television said 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded in the allied air strikes. The statement by the Libyan armed forces said the capital Tripoli and the cities of Sirte, Benghazi, Misrata and Zuwarah were hit.

French planes fired the first shots in what is the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels’ eastern stronghold, Benghazi.

Hours later, U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles against air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gaddafi’s forces, U.S. military officials said.

They said U.S. forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation “Odyssey Dawn.”

Gaddafi called it “colonial, crusader” aggression.

“It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honor of Libya,” he said in an audio message broadcast on state television hours after the strikes began.

Explosions and heavy anti-aircraft fire rattled Tripoli in the early hours of Sunday. The shooting was followed by defiant shouts of “Allahu Akbar” that echoed around the city center.

Tripoli residents said they had heard an explosion near the eastern Tajoura district, while in Misrata they said strikes had targeted an airbase where Gaddafi’s forces were based.

A Reuters witness in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi reported loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire, but it was unclear which side was shooting or what had provoked the firing.

The international intervention, which followed weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed in Benghazi with a mix of apprehension and relief.

“We think this will end Gaddafi’s rule. Libyans will never forget France’s stand with them. If it weren’t for them, then Benghazi would have been overrun tonight,” said Iyad Ali, 37.

“We salute France, Britain, the United States and the Arab countries for standing with Libya. But we think Gaddafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard,” said Khalid al-Ghurfaly, a civil servant, 38.

GADDAFI SEEN LOSING GRIP ON LIBYA

The air strikes, launched from a flotilla of some 25 coalition ships, including three U.S. submarines, in the Mediterranean, followed a meeting in Paris of Western and Arab leaders backing the military intervention.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said participants agreed to use “all necessary means, especially military” to enforce a U.N. Security Council calling for an end to attacks on civilians.

“Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters after the meeting. “We cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.”

Some analysts have questioned the strategy for the military intervention, fearing Western forces might be sucked into a long civil war despite a U.S. insistence — repeated on Saturday — that it has no plans to send ground troops into Libya.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that outside powers hoped their intervention would be enough to turn the tide against Gaddafi and allow Libyans to force him out.

“It is our belief that if Mr. Gaddafi loses the capacity to enforce his will through vastly superior armed forces, he simply will not be able to sustain his grip on the country.”

But analysts have questioned what Western powers will do if the Libyan leader digs in, especially since they do not believe they would be satisfied with a de facto partition which left rebels in the east and Gaddafi running a rump state in the west.

One participant at the Paris meeting said Clinton and others had stressed Libya should not be split in two. And on Friday, Obama specifically called on Gaddafi’s forces to pull back from the western cities of Zawiyah and Misrata as well from the east.

“It’s going to be far less straightforward if Gaddafi starts to move troops into the cities which is what he has been trying to do for the past 24 hours,” said Marko Papic at the STRATFOR global intelligence group.

“Once he does that it becomes a little bit more of an urban combat environment and at that point it’s going to be difficult to use air power from 15,000 feet to neutralize that.”

The Libyan government has blamed rebels, who it says belong to al Qaeda, for breaking a ceasefire it announced on Friday.

In Tripoli, several thousand people gathered at the Bab al-Aziziyah palace, Gaddafi’s compound that was bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986, to show their support.

“There are 5,000 tribesmen that are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They better not try to attack our country,” said farmer Mahmoud el-Mansouri.

“We will open up Libya’s deserts and allow Africans to flood to Europe to blow themselves up as suicide bombers.”

U.S. SAYS NOT LEADING INTERVENTION

France and Britain have taken a lead role in pushing for international intervention in Libya and the United States — after embarking on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — has been at pains to stress it is supporting, not leading, the operation.

In announcing the missile strikes, which came eight years to the day after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Obama said the effort was intended to protect the Libyan people.

“Today I authorized the armed forces of the United States to begin a limited action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians,” Obama told reporters in Brasilia, where he had begun a five-day tour of Latin America.

He said U.S. troops were acting in support of allies, who would lead the enforcement of a no-fly zone to stop Gaddafi’s attacks on rebels. “As I said yesterday, we will not, I repeat, we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground,” Obama said.

But despite Washington’s determination to stress the limits of its role, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, said the missile strikes were only the first phase of a multi-phase action.

Earlier on Saturday hundreds of cars full of refugees fled Benghazi toward the Egyptian border after the city came under a bombardment overnight. One family of 13 women from a grandmother to small children, rested at a roadside hotel.

“I’m here because when the bombing started last night my children were vomiting from fear,” said one of them, a doctor. “All I want to do is get my family to a safe place and then get back to Benghazi to help. My husband is still there.”

Those who remained set up make-shift barricades with furniture, benches, road signs and even a barbecue in one case at intervals along main streets. Each barricade was manned by half a dozen rebels, but only about half of those were armed.

In the besieged western city of Misrata, residents said government forces shelled the rebel town again early on Saturday, while water supplies had been cut off for a third day.

“I am telling you, we are scared and we are alone,” a Misrata resident, called Saadoun, told Reuters by telephone.

(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Angus MacSwan in Benghazi, Tom Perry in Cairo, Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy in Tripoli, Hamid Ould Ahmed and Christian Lowe in Algiers; John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, Missy Ryan in Washington, Writing by Myra MacDonald; Editing by Michael Roddy)

LATEST NEWS UPDATE:

RAF Tornado jets have hit Libyan targets with cruise missiles on a long-range bombing mission, London’s first air strikes in the military action, defence officials said Sunday.

Royal Air Froce Tornado fighter jets have launched missiles in Libya in London’s …More Enlarge photo

West pounds Libya, Kadhafi vows retaliation

Royal Air Force jets launch air strikes in Libya

British jets launch air strikes in Libya

“I can now confirm that the RAF (Royal Air Force) has also launched Stormshadow missiles from a number of Tornado GR4 fast jets,” said military spokesman Major General John Lorimer.

The planes flew on a 3,000-mile (4,800-kilometre) round trip from RAF Marham, a base in eastern England, and back again during the mission, said the spokesman.

Defence Minister Liam Fox said the strikes were “the longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict,” in 1982.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman refused to give any details of the location of the targets.

A Royal Navy submarine also fired Tomahawk cruise missiles in a joint attack with American forces on Saturday, defence officials said.

London has two frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, off the coast of Libya and Typhoon aircraft are standing by to provide support, Fox said.

“This action has provided a strong signal — the international community will not stand by while the Libyan people suffer under the (Moamer) Kadhafi regime,” said the minister.

Britain, the United States and France have launched attacks on Libya to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone and stop Kadhafi from crushing an uprising.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
AP – U.S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives at the Elysee palace for a crisis summit on Libya, …

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 ANGELA CHARLTON, Associated Press Angela Charlton, Associated Press :

PARIS – In diplomatic terms, international military action against Libya’s leader went from the brainstorming stage to the shooting-at-tanks stage with stunning speed.

Saturday’s launch of military strikes by French, British and U.S. forces with Arab backing and U.N. mandate was not universally endorsed. And it’s unclear whether it will be fast enough to do what its proponents want, to shore up rebel forces and oust Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi.

But the cascade of quick, weighty decisions getting there was unusual — just one of the unusual things about this dramatic operation.

It has the backing of the Arab League, which has balked at other interventions in the Arab world and is known more for lengthy deliberations than action.

And it was initiated by the French, who famously opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It was French President Nicolas Sarkozy who announced that 22 participants in an emergency summit in Paris on Saturday had agreed to launch armed action against Gadhafi’s military. And a French fighter jet reported the first strike Saturday afternoon, against a Libyan military vehicle in or near Benghazi, the heart of the uprising against the longtime leader, before over a hundred cruise missiles fired from U.S and British ships slammed into this north African nation.

The action in Libya came after the international community was slow to respond to swelling protests in Tunisia and then Egypt in January and February that toppled longtime autocrats and sparked uprisings around the Arab world.

Leaders and diplomats dawdled less when Libya’s Gadhafi started shooting at protesters.

On Feb. 26, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime after just about two days of discussion, and as rebel forces gained ground against the Libyan military.

On March 10, France recognized the opposition Interim Governing Council as the “legitimate representatives of the Libyan people.” The next day, the 27-nation European Union offered the opposition similar support.

Support in Arab countries mounted for a no-fly zone. Some members wanted to make sure there was no full-blown Western invasion, and hoped endorsing a no-fly zone would give them more leverage with the West on military plans.

With Gadhafi’s forces showing signs of a resurgency, the 22-member Arab League called March 12 for the U.N.’s Security Council to impose a no-fly zone.

That was a crucial moment, especially for the United States. Without Arab support, any intervention would have risked being seen as a Western occupation.

France and Britain pushed for a new, stronger U.N. resolution. Washington, initially reluctant, said even a no-fly zone wouldn’t be enough, paving the way for authorization of a draft calling for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians.

That resolution won U.N. adoption Thursday, March 17.

On Friday, the U.S., France and Britain sent Gadhafi a letter telling him a cease-fire must begin immediately, or risk the consequences.

On Saturday morning, Gadhafi’s forces defied their own cease-fire, aiming new strikes on Benghazi.

Western warplanes and warships amassed around the Mediterranean, from Canada, Britain, Denmark, the United States.

Sarkozy hastily gathered 22 high-powered guests for a lunch summit Saturday: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, British Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, and top officials from around Europe and Arab countries.

After lunch, Sarkozy announced that the political leaders had agreed to launch military action. French planes, he said, were already in the air.

Ninety minutes later, French military officials reported their first strike.

This was all very different from past protracted, divisive U.N. debates over military intervention. In 2002-2003, France especially was vehemently opposed to action in Iraq, and Britain was forced to withdraw a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Saddam Hussein. The United States then organized a coalition without U.N. approval.

On Saturday, the U.N. chief hailed the Paris summit on Libya as a success.

It’s “never too late” to undertake an operation like this, Ban said. “Arab countries, Europeans, Americans — they were all in one voice,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said “we have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gadhafi will commit unspeakable atrocities.”

Cameron said after the summit: “We have to make it stop. … The time for action has come, it needs to be urgent.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also in Paris, said Gadhafi’s claim of a cease-fire “was an obvious lie from the beginning.”

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an umbrella organization representing 57 Muslim nations, called on member states to help implement the U.N. resolution and to establish contacts with the Libyan opposition.

But several countries remain cautious or openly critical about the risky operation.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it noted the launch of operations “with regret,” and noted that the U.N. resolution authorizing them was “hastily approved.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has longstanding ties to Gadhafi, said the U.S. and its allies simply want to “seize Libya’s oil” and that the United Nations has “infringed on its fundamental principles.”

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said she backed the operation but added, “We will not participate with our own soldiers.” Cyprus, in the Mediterranean northeast of Libya, said it didn’t want to get involved.

NATO is divided over whether it should take a leading role or just provide support to air forces already engaged in the mission.

In Brussels, NATO’s top decision-making body appeared poised to decide on Sunday “if and how the alliance will join” the effort, said Martin Povejsil, the Czech Republic’s envoy to NATO.

While Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are taking part, according to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, it’s unclear whether bigger Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia could join in.

Sarkozy acknowledged the risks of the operation, and insisted it did not amount to an international occupation force.

“There is still time for Col. Gadhafi to avoid the worst by complying without delay and without reservations to all the demands of the international community. The door of diplomacy will reopen at the moment when the aggressions cease,” Sarkozy said.

Canada’s Harper acknowledged that the diplomatic push will result in bloodshed.

“We should not kid ourselves,” he told reporters in Paris. “One cannot promise perfection, or that there will not be casualties on our side.”

But he added, “We’re dealing with a regime that will not be satisfied with the reimposition of its authority. … They will massacre every single individual they remotely suspect of disloyalty.”

_____

Jamey Keaten, Matthew Lee, Greg Keller, Cassandra Vinograd and Samantha Bordes in Paris and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

NEWS UPDATE:

BENGHAZI, Libya – The U.S. and European nations pounded Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and air defenses with cruise missiles and airstrikes Saturday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat. Libyan state TV claimed 48 people had been killed in the attacks, but the report could not be independently verified.

The longtime Libyan leader vowed to defend his country from what he called “crusader aggression” and warned the involvement of international forces will subject the Mediterranean and North African region to danger and put civilians at risk.

The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya’s air force. French fighter jets fired the first salvos, carrying out several strikes in the rebel-held east.

British military spokesman Maj. Gen. John Lorimer said British fighter jets also had been used to bombard the North African Nation.

President Barack Obama said military action was not his first choice and reiterated that he would not send American ground troops to Libya.

“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. “We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.”

Thousands of regime supporters, meanwhile, packed into the sprawling Bab al-Aziziya military camp in Tripoli where Gadhafi lives to protect against attacks.

Anti-aircraft guns could be heard firing overnight in Tripoli.

The strikes, which were aimed at enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, were a sharp escalation in the international effort to stop Gadhafi after weeks of pleading by the rebels who have seen early gains reversed as the regime unleashed the full force of its superior air power and weaponry.

Libyan TV quoted the armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. It said most of the casualties were children but gave no more details.

___

Al-Shalchi reported from Tripoli, Libya. Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Cairo; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Jamey Keaten in Paris; and Robert Burns in Washington also contributed to this report.

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