BREAKING NEWS: Libya: Tripoli Bombarded As British Typhoon Jets Fly Into Action: UPDATED

22 Mar

Libya‘s capital Tripoli has been bombarded for a third night as Britain’s Typhoon jets have been involved in their first-ever combat mission – to police the no-fly zone.

Tripoli Bombarded Amid International Discord Play video

Loud explosions – some reportedly near Colonel Muammar Gaddafi‘s compound – and anti-aircraft fire could be heard across the capital as coalition fighter jets targeted the Libyan leader’s defences.

The Typhoons, the newest additions to the RAF’s fast jet fleet, flew into action from their southern Italy base in Gioia del Colle.

The jet is mainly deployed as a fighter and could use its air-to-air missile systems to bring down any aircraft defying the no-fly zone over Libya.

Military experts have said the UK’s Libyan contribution is likely to involve around a dozen Tornado jets and a similar number of Typhoons.

The latest airstrikes have handed some momentum back to revolutionary forces, but fears have increased of a stalemate, with warnings that the rebellion’s more organised military units are still not ready to defeat fighters loyal to Col Gaddafi.

Sky correspondent Lisa Holland, reporting under the supervision of the Libyan authorities in Tripoli, said she watched lines of tracer fire arc skyward as gunners aimed at aircraft imposing the no-fly zone.

“There were two or three explosions, then a missile, and anti-aircraft fire spraying the sky,” Holland said.

“There was a lull for about 45 minutes and then a second round of explosions here in Tripoli.

“There have also been reports of a naval base, east of Tripoli, being destroyed but the regime has given no official line about what has been hit here overnight.”

Libyan State TV reported that two radar installations at air defence bases near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi were destroyed by allied forces.

As Libya was pounded from the air by the coalition, fighting between the rebels and Gaddafi’s forces has continued on the ground.

In Misratah, to the east of Tripoli, several sources reported a series of attacks on rebels by forces loyal to Col Gaddafi.

In Zintan, near the Tunisian border, civilians were reportedly forced into mountain caves after heavy shelling from Libyan troops.

In the east, rebels have reportedly progressed 60 miles south of Benghazi to Ajdabiah following Sunday’s coalition assault on government tanks.

Sky correspondent Emma Hurd, on one of the frontlines near the southwest town of Ajdabiyah, 90 miles from Benghazi, said: “There is fighting in Misratah, which has been under a heavy barrage for days because Col Gaddafi’s forces are right inside the city.”

“There is also fighting where I am in Ajdabiya, which government forces took a few days ago,” she said.

“Despite the air power against them, Col Gaddafi’s forces are still holed inside Ajdabiyah with all the consequences for the civilian population that it might have.”

Hurd said there is confusion among rebel fighters about the level of protection they can expect to receive from the coalition.

“Some of them believe they have air cover from the allied warplanes, but the UN Security Council resolution does not explicitly say that,” she said.

“It’s designed to protect civilians but not defend the armed uprisings so it appears that it could be a much harder fight for the rebels than first thought, when the UN decided to intervene.”

The purpose of the airstrikes are to stop Col Gaddafi’s troops from attacking rebel cities – in line with the UN mandate to protect civilians.

But the UK and US have both stressed that although they would like to see the dictator of 41 years overthrown, that is not the goal of the military action.

Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the House of Commons during a six-hour debate that saw a 557-13 vote in favour of using the military to enforce the UN resolution.

“Let me explain how the coalition will work – it’s operating under US command with the intention that this will transfer to Nato,” Mr Cameron said.

He declined to say whether Col Gaddafi was himself a potential target of the airstrikes.

And while the US was eager to pass leadership off, allied countries were deeply divided on the issue.

Turkey was adamantly against Nato taking charge, while Italy hinted it would stop allowing use of its airfields if the veteran alliance is not given the leadership.

Germany and Russia also criticised the way the mission is being carried out.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin labelled the airstrikes as “outside meddling reminiscent of a medieval call for a Crusade”.

NEWS UPDATE ADDITION:

Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has offered to step down by the end of the year after weeks of protests against his 32-year rule, a spokesman said.

Yemen’s President ‘To Quit This Year’ Enlarge photo

Saleh reportedly told a meeting of senior official, military leaders and tribal chiefs that he would not hand over control of the Arab nation to the military once he quits.

The move appeared to be a reversal of his earlier rejection of an opposition proposal demanding such a resignation.

However, it was not immediately clear if protesters, who have been camped out around the university in the capital Sanaa for weeks, would accept the latest offer after more than 50 of them were shot dead on Friday.

Saleh’s support has been draining away since the killings were carried out by plainclothes snipers.

Abdel-Malik Mansour, Yemen’s representative to the Arab League, told Al Arabiya television on Tuesday that he was siding with the protestors. Water and environment minister Abdul-Rahman al-Iryani, sacked with the rest of the cabinet on Sunday, also said he was joining “the revolutionaries”.

Journalists at the 14 October state-run newspaper in the main southern city of Aden have decided to cease publishing the paper to “protest against instructions from the Ministry of Information” determining the newspaper’s editorial line.

The latest defections came after senior generals, ambassadors and some tribes on Monday backed the opposition.

However, the army as a whole apparently remains loyal after a declaration of support from the defence minister.

“We will not allow under any circumstances an attempt at a coup against democracy and constitutional legitimacy,” Mohammad Nasser Ali said on state TV.

After uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt brought down their presidents, Saleh offered concessions to the opposition, including vowing not to stand for re-election in 2013.

Last week he also offered a new constitution giving more powers to parliament, as well as announcing an array of handouts.

But he has rejected opposition plans for a phased transition of power this year.

NEWS UPDATE:

A U.S. warplane has crashed in a Libyan field after an apparent mechanical failure and its pilot has been rescued by rebels, the Daily Telegraph reported on its website on Tuesday.

The plane is an F-15E Eagle, the Telegraph added in a report from a correspondent on the ground in Libya.

“Just found a crashed US warplane in a field. believe a mechanical failure brought it down,” Telegraph correspondent Rob Crilly said on the Twitter micro-blogging site.

“Came down late last night. Crew believed safe,” Crilly added in subsequent tweets.

Western forces carried out a third night of air raids overnight aimed at protecting civilians from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

NEWS UPDATE:

President Barack Obama, speaking in Santiago, Chile on Monday, defended his decision to order U.S. strikes against Libyan military targets, and insisted that the mission is clear.

And like a parade of Pentagon officials the past few days, Obama insisted that the United States’ lead military role will be turned over—”in days, not weeks”—to an international command of which the United States will be just one part.

The only problem: None of the countries in the international coalition can yet agree on to whom or how the United States should hand off responsibilities.

The sense of urgency among White House officials to resolve the command dispute is profound: with each hour the U.S. remains in charge of yet another Middle East military intervention, Congress steps up criticism that Obama went to war in Libya without first getting its blessing, nor defining precisely what the end-game will be. (On Monday, Obama sent Congress official notification that he had ordered the U.S. military two days earlier to commence operations “to prevent humanitarian catastrophe” in Libya and support the international coalition implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1973.)

Below, an explainer on the military mission in Libya, the dispute over who should command it after its initial phase, and whether the military is concerned about mission creep.

What is the U.S. military task in Libya?

The military mission in Libya is implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for Gadhafi’s forces to pull back from rebel-held towns, and the establishment of a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians from attack by Gadhafi, and for civilians to be allowed access to food, water and other humanitarian supplies.

Is the U.S. military trying to kill Gadhafi?

No, the U.S. military is not authorized to kill Gadhafi, said Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. African Command at a press conference in Stuttgart, Germany, Monday. Ham’s command is currently leading the first phase of the international coalition effort to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, together with the United Kingdom and France. Nor is the U.S. military currently coordinating with anti-Gadhafi rebels or authorized to provide them military support, Ham said.

The main objective, Ham stressed, is to protect civilians from attack. “The military mission is very clear, frankly. What is expected of us to do is establish a no fly zone to protect civilians, to get withdrawal of regime ground forces out of Benghazi,” Ham said. “What we look forward to is the transition to designating the headquarters” of the command of the next phase of operations.

How can the coalition reconcile a military mission that could leave Gadhafi in power with the many calls for his removal?

On Monday, Obama answered this by underlining the language of UN Security Council resolution 1973, which calls for protecting civilians from attack. That narrow military mission is distinct, Obama said, from the larger political goal of seeing Gadhafi step down—a call that Obama himself has repeatedly echoed, along with other major Western diplomatic players such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The international community has other non-military tools to achieve that goal, Obama said, such as economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, international war crimes investigation, and cutting off the Gadhafi regime’s access to financial assets abroad.

“First of all, I think it is very easy to square our military actions and our stated policies,” Obama said in Chile Monday. “Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the UN Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Gadhafi to his people.”

Who is currently commanding the international military coalition?

U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), the U.S. regional military command dealing with the continent of Africa, and its commander Gen. Carter Ham, are leading the first phase of what the Pentagon has dubbed  “Operation Odyssey Dawn” to suppress Libya’s air defenses to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.

Other early members of the international coalition imposing a no-fly zone over Libya include France and the United Kingdom, joined Monday by Belgium and Canada.

Ham and other Pentagon officials have said the U.S. is eager to turn over the lead role in the operation to international coalition partners, but as yet the command of the next phase has not been agreed.

What’s really at issue in the dispute over who should command the next phase of the international mission over Libya?

Put simply, the members of the international coalition are at odds over whether the international coalition command should be led by NATO, or not.

The French, Turks, and Germans reportedly object to NATO running the operation, all for their own reasons. The Italians, the UK, and the United States, among others, think that NATO is best equipped to be able to take swift control of the mission.

“There is not only one problem. Each player has its own perspective, sensitivity, priority,” said one European defense official on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the dispute Monday. “You have the weak, the prudent, the strong, the opportunists.”

“The problem is, the Italians are calling for it to be a NATO operation, but it’s not clear all members of NATO support this,” said Anthony Cordesman, a veteran defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s also clear that the French initiated part of this operation. And behind it is the reality that it is only the United States that has the combination of satellite targeting and precision strike capabilities in terms of cruise missiles that are critical to overall command and control and situational awareness.”

Why do the French and others object to a possible NATO command structure?

“There are technical considerations and political ones,” said Justin Vaisse, of the Brookings Institution Center for the United States and Europe. Sarkozy has two basic objection, Vaisse explains: “One, NATO is radioactive in the Arab world and seen as a tool of US imperialism. And two, there’s also the question of not having Turkey and Germany [who have expressed reservations about the Libya military mission], impede” the international mission in Libya, given that NATO is a consensus organization.

Turkey reportedly resents that French president Sarkozy did not invite Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to his Paris summit on Libya Saturday with other world leaders. (The perceived insult is “completely absurd,” a French official said, explaining that the summit was open to any country interested in implementing the Libya UN resolution, and France did not “send 200 invites to all members of the UN.” A Turkish official said the Ankara would have gladly sent a representative had they been invited.)

Germany reportedly is not interested in participating in a military mission in Libya, but could opt-out but approve NATO being otherwise involved.

NATO ambassadors met in Brussels Monday to debate the issue.

When is the command issue likely to be resolved?

U.S. officials insist it has to be resolved soon–“days, not weeks,” as Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Sunday.

“I would not put a date certain on this,” Gen. Carter Ham said Monday. “The first thing that has got to happen is identification of what that organization is. We have been from the start planning how to effect this transition once that follow-on headquarters is established. It’s not so simple as to have a handshake and say, ‘you’re now in charge.’ ”

Does the top U.S. commander worry about mission creep?

“No, I don’t worry too much about mission creep,” Ham said after a pause Monday. “I think the mission is clear, and moving forward and achieving the military objectives consistent with our mission.”

(A group of protesters angry about international intervention in Libya blocked the path of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as he left a meeting at the Arab League.: Nasser Nasser/AP)

Tripoli Bombarded Amid International Discord Play video

Tripoli Bombarded As Typhoons Fly Into Action Enlarge photo

Video: Tripoli Bombarded Amid International Discord

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