Saturday, March 19, 2011

Libya News Bulletin: U.S., France Launches Bombing Attacks on North African State

Officials: U.S. prepares missile attack on Libya

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — The U.S. prepared to a launch a missile attack on Libyan air defenses, but American ships and aircraft stationed in and around the Mediterranean Sea did not participate in initial French air missions Saturday, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the unfolding intervention.

A Libyan jet bomber crashedafter being hit over Benghazi on Saturday as Libya's rebel stronghold came under attack.

One official said the U.S. intends to limit its involvement — at least in the initial stages — to helping protect French and other air missions by taking out Libyan air defenses.

An attack against those defenses with Navy sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles was planned for later Saturday, one official said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of military operations.

The official said that depending on how Libyan forces responded to initial intervention by the French and others, the U.S. could launch additional attacks in support of allied forces. The intention was to leave it to other nations to patrol a no-fly zone over Libya once air defenses are silenced, the official said.

On Saturday, French fighter jets soared over a rebel-held city besieged by Moammar Gadhafi's troops, the first mission for an international military force launched in support of the 5-week-old uprising.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an emergency summit in Paris that French jets were already targeting Gadhafi's forces. The 22 participants in Saturday's summit "agreed to put in place all the means necessary, in particular military" to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday demanding a cease-fire, Sarkozy said.

Gadhafi had tried to take advantage of the time lag betwen the U.N. resolution and the launch of the international operation, making a decisive strike on the Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the first major stronghold of the rebellion. Crashing shells shook buildings, and the sounds of battle drew closer to the city center as its residents despaired. A doctor said 27 bodies had reached hospitals by midday. By late in the day, warplanes could be heard overhead and the shelling had stopped.

"Our planes are blocking the air attacks on the city" of Benghazi, he said, without elaborating. After the announcement, scattered cheers went up from rebels in the city.

In an open letter, Gadafhi warned: "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country."

Libyan state television showed Gadhafi supporters converging on the international airport and a military garrison in Tripoli, and the airport in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, in an apparent attempt to deter bombing.

Earlier Saturday, a plane was shot down over the outskirts of Benghazi, sending up a massive black cloud of smoke. An Associated Press reporter saw the plane go down in flames and heard the sound of artillery and crackling gunfire.

Before the plane went down, journalists heard what appeared to be airstrikes from it. Rebels cheered and celebrated at the crash, though the government denied a plane had gone down — or that any towns were shelled on Saturday.

The fighting galvanized the people of Benghazi, with young men collecting bottles to make gasoline bombs. Some residents dragged bed frames and metal scraps into the streets to make roadblocks. But at Jalaa hospital, where the tile floors and walls were stained with blood, the toll was clear.

"There are more dead than injured," said Dr. Ahmed Radwan, an Egyptian who had been there helping for three weeks.

Jalaa's Dr. Gebreil Hewadi, a member of the rebel health committee, said city hospitals had received 27 bodies.

At a news conference in the capital, Tripoli, the government spokesman read letters from Gadhafi to President Barack Obama and others involved in the international effort.

"Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans. The Security Council resolution is invalid," he said in the letter to Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

To Obama, the Libyan leader was slightly more conciliatory: "If you had found them taking over American cities with armed force, tell me what you would do."

President Obama, on an official visit to Brazil on Saturday, mentioned the Libya operation only briefly. He noted that U.S., European and other government officials met in Paris Saturday to discuss the way ahead in Libya.

"Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear," Obama said. "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."

After the Paris meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi continued to defy the will of the international community that he halt attack against rebels. She said the U.S. will support the international military coalition taking action to stop Gadhafi.

Clinton said "unique" American military capabilities will be brought to bear in support of the coalition, and she reiterated Obama's pledge on Friday that no U.S. ground forces would get involved. She was not more specific about U.S. involvement.

"We will support the enforcement" of the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed earlier in the week, she said. That resolution authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone and use of "all necessary" military force.

Among the U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean were two guided-missile destroyers, the USS Barry and USS Stout, as well as two amphibious warships, the USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, and a command-and-control ship, the USS Mount Whitney. The submarine USS Providence was also in the Mediterranean.

In a joint statement to Gadhafi late Friday, the United States, Britain and France — backed by unspecified Arab countries — called on Gadhafi to end his troops' advance toward Benghazi and pull them out of the cities of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zawiya. It also called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas. It said Libyans must be able to receive humanitarian aid or the "international community will make him suffer the consequences" with military action.

Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said that Libyan officials had informed the U.N. and the Security Council that the government was holding to the cease-fire it had announced Friday and called for a team of foreign observers to verify that.

"The nation is respecting all the commitments put on it by the international community," he said, leaving the podium before answering any questions about Benghazi.

In the course of the rebellion, Libya has gone from a once-promising economy with the largest proven oil reserves in Africa to a country in turmoil. The foreign workers that underpinned the oil industry have fled; production and exports have all but ground to a halt; and its currency is down 30% in just two weeks.

The oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, held a news conference calling on foreign oil companies to send back their workers. He said the government would honor all its contracts.

"It is not our intention to violate any of these agreements and we hope that from their part they will honor this agreement and they will send back their workforces," he said.

Italy, which had been the main buyer for Libyan oil, offered the use of seven air and navy bases already housing U.S., NATO and Italian forces to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

Italy's defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said Saturday that Italy wasn't just "renting out" its bases for others to use but was prepared to offer "moderate but determined" military support.

Mirage and Rafale fighter jets flew over Benghazi and could strike Gadhafi's tanks later Saturday, a senior French official told The Associated Press.

The official said the jets are flying over the opposition stronghold and its surroundings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said after the summit: "The time for action has come, it needs to be urgent."

Libya: Allied fighters hit Gaddafi's forces as West intervenes in conflict

French planes in action as dictator given ultimatum

Chris McGreal in Benghazi, Ian Black in Tripoli,
Toby Helm in London, and Kim Willsher in Paris

Western planes led strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's military as world leaders ordered the biggest intervention in the Arab world since allied forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The patience of the international community finally ran out as Gaddafi's troops pounded the rebel stronghold of Benghazi hours after the Libyan dictator had promised a full ceasefire and invited foreign officials into his country to monitor it.

After US, European and Arab leaders met for urgent talks in Paris, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said his aircraft were already in action to stop what he described as Gaddafi's "murderous madness". He said: "Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gaddafi against the population of Benghazi. As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town. As of now, other French aircraft are ready to intervene against tanks, armoured vehicles threatening unarmed civilians."

David Cameron said action was needed to stop Gaddafi slaughtering his own people and flouting the will of the international community. "Colonel Gaddafi 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. The time for action has come," the prime minister said.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the people of Libya had appealed for help and the international community had been united in its determination to respond: "We have every reason to fear that, left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities. His campaign of violence must stop."

Even before the summit, military sources said French Rafale planes were carrying out reconnaissance missions. Rafales are designed for bombing, reconnaissance and air defence purposes, but can also be equipped with laser-guided bombs for air strikes.

A French official said a French fighter jet had fired on a Libyan military vehicle in the first exchanges with Gaddafi's forces. French defence ministry spokesman Thierry Burkhard said the strike had been reported around 16.45 GMT. France expects to carry out most of its air missions from its base on Corsica while it is believed UK fighters would be deployed from southern Italy or Cyprus. An American official said that the US intended to limit its involvement to protecting allied air missions by taking out Libyan air defences with missile strikes launched from US Navy ships stationed in the Mediterranean. Six Danish F-16 fighter jets landed at a US air base in Sicily, while Canadian CF-18 Hornets were also in the region.

The Gaddafi regime announced on Friday that it would lay down arms after the UN security council passed resolution 1,973, authorising "all necessary measures" short of foreign occupation to protect the civilians of Libya. But as world leaders gathered in Paris, it was clear that forces loyal to the Libyan dictator had no such intention as they rushed to storm Benghazi – apparently in the belief that if they could embed themselves among the city's large civilian population it would be more difficult for allied forces to oust them. Early yesterday, a rebel plane was shot down over Benghazi sending plumes of black smoke into the sky.

Fighting in Benghazi continued even as French military jets began patrols over the city. It was not immediately clear whether a large explosion that rocked the edge of Benghazi after dusk was caused by Libyan forces on the ground or marked the beginning of the western air assault.

"Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans. The security council resolution is invalid," Gaddafi wrote earlier in an open letter to Cameron, Sarkozy and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country." He was more conciliatory in a message to US President Barack Obama, asking him: "If you found them taking over American cities by the force of arms, tell me, what you would do?"

British sources said Cameron held discussions with Sarkozy before they joined Clinton for a session of the "leadership of the coalition of the willing". A session with all international leaders gathered in Paris then took place.

Moussa Koussa, Gaddafi's foreign minister, insisted that Libya was abiding by the UN security council resolution passed on Thursday and that the ceasefire he announced on Friday was still in place. Libya has blamed rebels it describes as "armed gangs linked to al-Qaida" for breaching it.

But the ceasefire was widely seen as a tactic to try to buy time and fuel international divisions over intervention. Any attack would be the first foreign military action against Libya since the US bombing of 1986 after a terrorist attack on US personnel in a Berlin nightclub. The 1988 Lockerbie bombing was widely seen as Libya's retaliation for that.

Jana, the official Libyan news agency, reported that volunteers were heading to strategic sites that might be targeted by UN-mandated attacks to act as "human shields". Al-Jamahirya TV showed protests at Tripoli international airport, Gaddafi's Bab al-Azizya barracks in the capital, and the airports in his home town of Sirte and in Sebha in the south of the country, a regime stronghold and the site of an important military base. Libyan opposition sources reported government forces forcibly taking people away from Zawiya, Zuwara and other areas where there has been resistance to the regime. Another claim said the families of personnel who might be tempted to defect were being taken to Bab al-Aziziya.

A communiqué issued after the Paris talks described the actions of the Libyan regime as "intolerable". It said that the Libyan people had been peacefully expressing their rejection of their leaders and their aspirations for change, adding: "In the face of these legitimate requests coming from all over the country, the Libyan regime has carried out a growing brutal crackdown, using weapons of war against its own people and perpetrating against them grave and massive violations of humanitarian law."

Allied Warplanes Strike First Libyan Targets

VOA News March 19, 2011

A Canadian CF-18A fighter plane prepares to land at the Birgi NATO Airbase in Trapani in the southern Italian island of Sicily, March 19, 2011

French war planes pounded Libyan targets Saturday evening, the first foreign strikes enforcing a United Nations "no-fly" zone over Libya, following an emergency international summit in Paris earlier in the day.

A French military spokesman said his forces targeted a vehicle that was threatening civilians in Libya. But news reports say the French fighters destroyed four Libyan tanks near the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Also Saturday, French President Nicholas Sarkozy announced that representatives of the U.N., European Union, Arab League and Western powers had agreed to use all necessary means, including military force, at their Paris summit.

He said they agreed to carry out provisions in the U.N. Security Council resolution approved on Thursday. The Council declared a "no-fly" zone over Libya and specifically authorized world powers to use "all measures necessary" to stop pro-Gadhafi forces from bearing down on rebels trying to bring down the government.

U.S. President Barack Obama reacted to developments in Paris shortly after the summit wrapped up. He said the allied consensus is strong, the resolve is clear and the Libyan people must be protected.

Later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented from the ...summit, where she defended the world leaders' decision.

Clinton said that while there was talk of a cease-fire from Tripoli, the reality on the ground told a different story. Clinton said world powers believed that any further delay in action would put more Libyan civilians at risk.

Clinton added that French planes already were in the air above Libya as the group was meeting.

Separately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the formation of a naval blockade.

Earlier Saturday, pro-government forces in Libya advanced against rebels on two fronts. Insurgents in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi said government loyalists had been pushing forward in apparent disregard of the cease-fire Mr. Gadhafi declared on Friday.

There were also reports of fighting south of Benghazi in Adjabiya as well as in Misrata, a rebel-held city in western Libya near Tripoli.

Mr. Gadhafi had sent urgent messages to world leaders Saturday, including Mr. Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In a letter read to reporters by a government spokesman in Tripoli, Mr. Gadhafi noted the rebels had seized control of Benghazi, and asked rhetorically how Mr. Obama would "behave" if there was a similar situation in the United States.

Addressing the U.N. secretary-general, Mr. Gadhafi said the Security Council's resolution on Libya is "invalid," and predicted that any Western action against Libya would be seen as "clear aggression."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

French jets attack Gaddafi targets

Warplanes destroy four tanks used by Libyan leader's army as military action to enforce UN-ordered no-fly zone begins.

Last Modified: 19 Mar 2011 17:26

Sarkozy has been keen to take a leading role in co-ordinating the response to the situation in Libya [Reuters]

French warplanes have bombed targets in Libya, marking the first international military action against forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, following a UN resolution to protects civilians in the country.

Al Jazeera believes four tanks belonging to pro-Gaddafi forces were hit on Saturday.

Other repors confirmed that French fighter jets had opened fire on targets in Libya, but said that only one military vehicle had been destroyed.

The move follows a meeting between world leaders in Paris to co-ordinate military intervention in Libya.

Speaking after talks those talks Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, steressed that the despite the UN-backed intervention, 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, refering to attacks on the civilian population.

"We do it to protect the civilian population from the madness of a regime that, but killing its own people, has lost any legitimacy."

Youcef Bouandel, a professor of international relations at Qatar University, said that Sarkozy's statement was "well measured".

"He chose his words very carefully to take the moral high ground, making reference to conscience, the rights of the Libyan people ... and most importantly getting the Arab nations on board," he told Al Jazeera.

Military intervention

Several Arab leaders attended the Paris meeting, along with an African Union representative and an array of European leaders including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, although Germany is not expected to participate in any action.

Paris has taken a leading role in co-ordinating the world's response to the situation in Libya and the attempt to halt Gaddafi's attacks on the poorly armed rebel forces.

Sarkozy convened Saturday's talks just hours after the UN Security Council passed a resolution allowing possible military action and a no-fly zone over the Libya.

Following Sarkozy's speech, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the US would bring its "unique capabilities to bear" in Libya but made clear that the US had no intention of sending ground troops into Libya.

"We have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities," she said, but did not give specific information about what US forces would be deployed.

In an open letter earlier, Gaddafi warned: "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country."

Early on Saturday, Gaddafi's forces moved on the rebels in Benghazi, despite calling a ceasefire in response to the UN Security Council resolution.

The move appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention.

Aircraft deployed

Colonel Brian Lees, a former British defence attaché to Saudi Arabia, said it would be important for intervention forces to act before the Libyan military was able to take cover among civilians in Benghazi.

"The important thing is to take out the military resources threating Benghazi, and that, I'm sure, is what they will focus on," he told Al Jazeera.

"To do that they may have to make sure that the Libyan air force is grounded and that the Libyan anti-aircraft capability is reduced."

Backing French aircraft, Denmark has sent six F-16 fighter jets to NATO's air base on the Italian island of Sicily and the UK could also deploy Tornado jets and Typhoon fighters from the British Akrotiri air base in Cyprus.

Italy offered the use of its military bases for the UN-backed military action.

"Italy, for the moment, places its bases at the disposition [of the UN-backed action] and through our co-ordination of operations we may be asked to make our assets available also," Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, said.

Libyan state television said Libyans, including women and children, were holding a sit-in at the Tripoli international airport, apparently to deter any attempt to bomb the area.

Footage showed hundreds of mostly young men on the runway carrying green flags and signs in support of the Libyan leader.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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