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U.S. launches missile strikes on Gaddafi's air defences as British and French fighters enforce no-fly zone

 
 
 
 
 
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A French Rafale fighter plane takes off from the Saomt-Dizier military base in France today bound for Libya to enforce a no-fly zone. The image was provided by the French Ministry of Defence.

The Pentagon has confirmed that that U.S. has launched missile strikes against Libya’s air defence network as a coalition of forces begin a no-fly zone over the north African nation even though a recent poll revealed that three-quarters of Americans 74% said the United States should “leave it to others” to attempt to resolve the situation in Libya, while 77% fully opposes the United States bombing Libyan air defenses.

The missiles attack coincided with French fighter jets engaging with Gaddafi military vehicles after world leaders lost patience with the Libyan dictator.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that British forces were in action, saying ‘what we are doing is necessary, legal and right’.

Up to 20 French planes were said to be patrolling the air above Libya enforcing the no-fly zone and had destroyed four Libyan tanks in air strikes, according to Al Jazeera.

Speaking ahead of the U.S. strikes, during a tour of Brazil, President Barack Obama said: ‘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.’

French Defense Ministry spokesman Thierry Burkhard said the strike was reported around 4.45pm and confirmed as a military vehicle. It was not clear what kind.

Prime Minister David Cameron joined other world leaders – including representatives of several Arab states – but not Mr Obama at an emergency summit in Paris, which agreed to deploy military aircraft to stop the assault on rebel stronghold Benghazi.

Speaking after a Cobra meeting tonight in Downing Street, he said: ‘We have all seen the appalling brutality that Colonel Gaddafi has meted out against his own people. And far from introducing the ceasefire he spoke about, he has actually stepped up the attacks and the brutality that we can all see.

‘So what we are doing is necessary, it is legal, and it is right.’

He added: ‘Tonight, of course our thoughts should be with those in our armed services who are putting their lives at risk in order to save the lives of others. They are the bravest of the brave.’

In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Gaddafi’s government had lost all legitimacy and lied about the cease-fire.

She said: ‘We have every reason to fear that, left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities.’

Colonel Gaddafi earlier flouted his own ceasefire and the UN resolution by continuing heavy artillery bombardment on the eastern city as tanks were reported in the streets.

The U.S. Navy had fired tomahawk missiles at coastal Libyan air defences from their submarines, according to reports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that his country’s air force was operating in the skies over Libya, while further French fighters stood ready to target Gaddafi’s tanks and armoured vehicles.

Mirage and Rafale fighters were patrolling the skies above Benghazi and could be used to target Libyan tanks as they shell civilian areas of the city.

It was not immediately clear how soon the RAF’s Typhoon and Tornado fighters will go into action, although the Dutch Prime Minister was reported to have said that UK, U.S. and French planes could be deployed later today.

Despite a ceasefire announced yesterday by Gaddafi’s regime, artillery fire at opposition-held cities Benghazi, Misrata and Ajdabiya continued today.

A Russian foreign ministry tonight said they ‘regret’ the military action being taken by the West.

Mr Cameron said it was clear the Gaddafi had violated the ceasefire and action was now needed ‘urgently’.

‘What is absolutely clear is that Gaddafi has broken his word, broken the ceasefire and continues to slaughter his own civilians,’ said the Prime Minister after the summit ended.

‘This has to stop. We have to make it stop. We have to make him face the consequences.

‘So I think it is vitally important that action takes place and action takes place urgently.

‘Obviously at this time our thoughts should be with those who are going to risk their lives to help save the lives of others.

‘I think it is vitally important that, with the UN behind us, with the clear legality of this action, and with local countries supporting us as well, it is right to act.’

He added: ‘There will always be unforeseen consequences of taking action, but it is better to take this action than to risk the consequences of inaction, which is the further slaughter of civilians by this dictator flouting the UN and its will.

‘He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire, he continues to brutalise his people, and so the time for action has come.’

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said they would support the international coalition – but would not deploy troops on the ground.

‘The US will not deploy ground troops but there should be no mistaking our commitment to this effort,’ she said.

‘Colonel Gaddafi continues to defy the world and his attacks on civilians go on. As President Obama has said, we have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gaddafi will commit unspeakable atrocities.

‘We all recognise that further delay will only put more civilians at risk.’

She added: ‘Let me be clear about the position of the US. We will support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of Resolution 1973.’

A U.S. official said the Navy was planning a sea-launched missile attack from the Mediterranean against elements of Libya’s coastal air defences.

The U.S. has submarines, destroyers, amphibious assault and landing ships in the vicinity.

The rebel fighter shot down this morning was believed to have been hit by Gaddafi’s forces, before crashing into the suburbs of Benghazi.

Residents said they had been under continuous bombardment since this morning.

Mohab Elbarghy, nine, and his father Hakim who were injured in a bombing raid by Gadaffi's forces on Saturday morning in the residential area of Benghazi. The bomb exploded on the room where the boy was sleeping.

Prepared: F-18 fighters are parked at the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy. International leaders have said Libya could face military action if it refuses to comply with UN resolution.

One person, identified only as Sam, told Sky News: ‘We have been under continuous bombing since about six o’clock this morning. It was non-stop.’

She described shells hitting houses and cars in residential areas of the city. She added: ‘Civilians are being attacked in Benghazi.’

Rebel leaders said Gaddafi’s forces had entered the city as they hastily put up concrete barricades to defend their headquarters.

Reports of skirmishes between loyalist forces and rebels have emerged, with claims that fighter jets have bombed the road to the airport.

The Libyan government has denied its forces were in action in Benghazi, and blamed rebels for trying to spark international military action in the country.

Angus MacSwan, a correspondent for Reuters, said: ‘I saw the plane circle around, come out of the clouds, head towards an apparent target, and then it was hit and went straight down in flames and a huge billow of black smoke went up.

‘It seems it was attacking the Benghazi military barracks.’

Initial reports stated the fighter jet belonged to Gaddafi’s forces, but this was later denied by rebel leaders.

Explosions have been heard in the city since the early hours of the morning, with rebel fighters claiming hired mercenaries were beginning to infiltrate the city.Khalid Ahmed, a rebel fighter, said: ‘They were 40 miles away yesterday, they are 12 miles away and they can be here in a half our to 90 minutes.’

A BBC correspondent also reported seeing tanks on the streets of Benghazi.

Exodus: Benghazi residents flee the city towards Tobruk as fighting breaks out between rebels and Gaddafi soldiers.

Angus MacSwan, a correspondent for Reuters, said: ‘I saw the plane circle around, come out of the clouds, head towards an apparent target, and then it was hit and went straight down in flames and a huge billow of black smoke went up.

‘It seems it was attacking the Benghazi military barracks.’

Initial reports stated the fighter jet belonged to Gaddafi’s forces, but this was later denied by rebel leaders.

Explosions have been heard in the city since the early hours of the morning, with rebel fighters claiming hired mercenaries were beginning to infiltrate the city.Khalid Ahmed, a rebel fighter, said: ‘They were 40 miles away yesterday, they are 12 miles away and they can be here in a half our to 90 minutes.’

A BBC correspondent also reported seeing tanks on the streets of Benghazi.

Two mercenaries were killed in a firefight with opposition forces in the Benghazi suburbs.

The two men, in civilian clothes, were shot and killed and blood-soaked identity papers revealed they were Nigerian.

Libyan forces have insisted they were holding to a ceasefire announced yesterday and repeated an invitation for international observers to enter the country today to monitor it.

Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The ceasefire is real, credible and solid. We are willing to receive observes as soon as possible, even today.’

U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice last night said the Libyan leader was already in violation of the UN Security Council resolution 1973, passed on Thursday, which called for an immediate end to hostilities and authorised ‘all necessary measures’ short of foreign occupation to protect civilians.

She told CNN that Gaddafi would face ‘swift and sure consequences including military action’ if he ignored international demands.

Residents in the rebel-held city of Misrata said they faced heavy shelling yesterday – denied by Gaddafi’s government – another breach of the broad-ranging UN resolution.

At least 38 people are believed to have been killed in the attack in Misrata. But Gaddafi condemned the resolution. He told Al Jazeera: ‘This is blatant colonialism. It does not have any justification.

‘This will have serious consequences on the Mediterranean and on Europe.’

Libya’s oil ministry also urged Western firms which abandoned operations in the country at the outbreak of unrest last month to return, warning that contracts may otherwise be handed over to companies from countries such as China and India. Shot down: A fighter, believed to be that of Gaddafi-backed forces, descends from the sky in flames after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot can be seen ejecting over Benghazi

Shot down: A fighter, believed to be that of Gaddafi-backed forces, descends from the sky in flames after being hit by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot can be seen ejecting over Benghazi.

Defiant: Colonel Gaddafi has said the UN resolution is 'invalid'.

RAF fighter jets were deploying to the Mediterranean to join the international effort to protect Libya’s people from aerial assault by Gaddafi’s forces.

Neither the Ministry of Defence nor Downing Street would last night confirm whether any RAF planes had set off on their mission, codenamed Operation Ellamy, or where they would be based in the Mediterranean.

Mr Cameron yesterday said that Typhoons and Tornados, together with surveillance and air-to-air refuelling craft, would be ready to leave within hours.

Gerard Araud, French ambassador to the UN, said: ‘So I guess that after this summit, I think that in the coming hours, I think we will got to launch the military intervention.’

President Obama has made it clear that any military action would aim to change conditions across the whole of Libya – rather than just in the rebel-held east.

He said: ‘All attacks against civilians must stop. Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiyah, and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas.

‘Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.

‘Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. If Gaddafi does not comply… the resolution will be enforced through military action.’

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  • Baron Gifelte

    The trouble with communism is that unlike shysterism you always run out of other peoples money.

    An attack on Libya is of course a crime against us all.

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  • Ray

    Under U.S. law, this action by the President is illegal.

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