Antiwar.com & Reuters & ArabNews.com – 2011-03-20 01:28:58
“There are 5,000 tribesmen that are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They better not try to attack our country. We will open up Libya’s deserts and allow Africans to flood to Europe to blow themselves up as suicide bombers.”
— Libyan farmer Mahmoud el-Mansouri
Shock and Awe 2:
US, France and Britain Pound Libya
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(March 19, 2011) — France fired the first shots in the new war with Libya, but the Obama Administration was close behind, with US warships firing upwards of 120 Tomahawk missiles at targets inside Libya. The strikes came largely overnight, and exactly what they hit is largely unknown.
The reports however, suggest that at least some of the missiles hit civilian areas, and initial reports are that the attacks have killed at least 48 civilians and wounded 150 others.
Obama termed the attacks a “limited military action” officially, but the massive series of strikes suggests the administration is already going far beyond the “no-fly zone” mandate and is well on its way to demanding Iraq-style regime change.
Even Obama’s comments came with additional comments calling for Gadhafi to leave office, though he so far seems not to be explicitly linking to two. It seems incredible that, only days ago the administration was non-committal on the notion of a no-fly zone, and now is on board for full-scale war.
The Gadhafi regime, for its part, appears to be preparing a defensive effort in Tripoli, with reports of thousands of civilians forming human shields around the Gadhafi compound in the capital. Officials have also suggested they intend to arm the West Libyan populace to resist any possible ground invasion.
Indeed, the footage on the evening of March 19, 2011 was eerily similar to the footage of March 19, 2003, when US forces were launching massive air strikes against targets inside Iraq as part of its “shock and awe strategy.”
Most unsettlingly, while praising the war in his appearance on CNN, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (best known for his daring conquest of New Orleans in 2005) described the attacks in the same glowing terms pundits did that evening eight years ago, insisting that the show of overwhelming force would prove to Gadhafi that resistance was futile.
Libyan State TV:
48 Killed by Allied Warplanes, Missiles
Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy / Reuters & Arab News.com
TRIPOLI (March 20, 2011) — At least 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded by allied bomb and missile strikes along the Libyan coast on Saturday, Muammar Qaddafi’s armed forces said early Sunday. In a statement broadcast on state TV, 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 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, US and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles against air defenses around Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Qaddafi’s forces, US military officials said.
They said US forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation “Odyssey Dawn.” Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi’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 Qaddafi’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 Qaddafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard,” said Khalid Al-Ghurfaly, a civil servant, 38.
The air strikes, launched from a flotilla of some 25 coalition ships, including three US 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 UN Security Council calling for an end to attacks on civilians.
“Col. Qaddafi 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 US 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 Qaddafi and allow Libyans to force him out.
“It is our belief that if Mr. Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi 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 Qaddafiâ€™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 Qaddafi 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 cease-fire it announced on Friday.
In Tripoli, several thousand people gathered at the Bab Al-Aziziyah palace, Qaddafi’s compound that was bombed by US 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.”
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 US-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 US troops were acting in support of allies, who would lead the enforcement of a no-fly zone to stop Qaddafiâ€™s attacks on rebels. “As I said yesterday, we will not, I repeat, we will not deploy any US 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 US 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.
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