Al Jazeera & Reuters – 2011-03-21 00:15:43
Fresh Air Strikes Rock Libyan Capital
(March 21, 2011) — Loud explosions have rocked the Libyan capital, Tripoli, a day after international forces launched an operation to enforce a no-fly zone over the North African country. Anti-aircraft tracer fire erupted in Tripoli late on Sunday, indicating a second wave of incoming jets aimed at targets belonging to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Britain’s ministry of defence said one of its submarines had again fired guided Tomahawk missiles on Libyan air defence systems on Sunday. Gunfire could also be heard from the area around Gaddafi’s residence in the Bab el-Aziziya barracks in the south of Tripoli, with reports of separate explosions coming from the same area.
Al Jazeera’s Anita McNaught, reporting from the capital, said it was not immediately clear where the explosions had occurred as the government only invited select journalists to visit the sites targeted.
“The principle firing happened around nine o’clock in the evening local time and that’s when we believe there was a strike in the region of Gaddafi’s compound,” she said. “We saw a large plume of smoke coming from an explosion somewhere in that general direction. It is likely there were plenty of useful military targets there if you were a major international force looking to persuade Gaddafi to make peaceful noises.”
The blasts came two days after the United Nations Security Council authorised international military action to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks by Gaddafi forces on civilians.
‘Gaddafi Not a Target’
The US military said the bombardment so far has succeeded in degrading Gaddafi’s air defenses. But a Pentagon spokesman stressed in a press briefing on Sunday that the Libyan leader is not a target for the international military assault on the country.
However, Navy Vice Admiral William E Gortney added that any of Gaddafi’s ground troops advancing on pro-democracy forces are open targets for US and allied attacks. “If they are moving on opposition forces … yes, we will take them under attack,” he told reporters. “There has been no new air activity by the regime and we have detected no radar emissions from any of the air defence sites targeted and there’s been a significant decrease in in the use of all Libyan air surveillance radars.”
Gortney said the coalition acting against Gaddafi, which originally grouped the US, Britain, France, Italy and Canada, had broadened to include Belgium and Qatar.
Army Announces Ceasefire
His comments came shortly after the Libyan military announced its second ceasefire since the UN resolution authorizing the no-fly zone was passed. But the White House has said it will not recognize a ceasefire declaration.
“Our view at this point… is that it isn’t true, or has been immediately violated,” White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon told reporters on Sunday.
Despite the strikes, the Libyan leader has vowed to fight on and in a televised address, a defiant Gaddafi promised a “long war” that his forces would win. “We will fight for every square in our land,” Gaddafi said. “We will die as martyrs.” He said the air attacks by foreign forces amounted to a “cold war” on Islam and threatened retribution against Libyans who sided with the foreign intervention. “We will fight and we will target any traitor who is co-operating with the Americans or with the Christian Crusade,” he said.
Conflicting Casualty Claims
The comments came as Tripoli’s official media said the air strikes were targeting civilian objectives and that there were “civilians casualties as a result of this aggression”. However, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, denied that any civilians had been killed in the bombardment, which saw some 110 cruise missiles being shot from American naval vessels in the Mediterranean sea.
Gaddafi “was attacking Benghazi and we are there to stop that … we are ending his ability to attack us from the ground, so he will not continue to execute his own people,” Mullen said. “It was a significant point when the Arab League voted against this guy. This is a colleague [of theirs], and we’ve had a significant number of coalition countries who’ve come together to provide capability.”
But Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Sunday condemned what he called the “bombardment of civilians” and called for an emergency meeting of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment, which he said had “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians”.
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egypt’s state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.
The Arab League had urged the UN to impose a no-fly zone on Libya and Arab support provided crucial underpinning for the passage of the UN Security Council resolution last week that enabled Western powers to take military action.
Edward Djerejian, a former US assistant secretary of state and former US ambassador to Syria, said it had been made very clear that a no-fly zone could not be established without taking military action against airfields and anti-aircraft installations. “A no-fly zone is not just a computer model game,” he told Al Jazeera. “It means military action and that was clear to all parties, including the Arab League.”
Westâ€™s Strikes on Libya Hit Arab League Criticism
TRIPOLI (March 20, 2011) — Western forces pounded Libyaâ€™s air defenses and patrolled its skies on Sunday, but their day-old intervention hit a serious diplomatic setback as the Arab League chief condemned the “bombardment of civilians.”
As European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Moammar Gadhafiâ€™s air defenses and armor, the Libyan leader said the air strikes amounted to terrorism and vowed to fight to the death.
While his eastern forces fled from the outskirts of Benghazi in the face of the allied air attacks, Gadhafi sent tanks into Misrata, the last rebel city in western Libya. Among the densely packed houses they were less vulnerable to attack from the air without the risk of killing innocent civilians.
Sixty-four people were killed in the Western bombardment overnight, a Libyan government health official said, but it was impossible to verify the report as government minders refused to take reporters in Tripoli to the sites of the bombings.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa called for an emergency meeting of the group of 22 states to discuss Libya. He requested a report into the bombardment which he said had “led to the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians.”
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Egyptâ€™s official state news agency quoted Moussa as saying.
Arab backing for a no-fly zone provided crucial underpinning for the passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution last week that paved the way for Western action to stop Gadhafi killing civilians as he fights an uprising against his rule.
The intervention is the biggest against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Withdrawal of Arab support would make it much harder to pursue what some defence analysts say could in any case be a difficult, open-ended campaign with an uncertain outcome.
A senior US official rebuffed Moussaâ€™s comments.
“The resolution endorsed by Arabs and UNSC (the United Nations Security Council) included â€™all necessary measuresâ€™ to protect civilians, which we made very clear includes, but goes beyond, a no-fly zone,” the official told Reuters during a visit by President Barack Obama to Rio de Janeiro.
The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the no-fly zone was effectively in place. But he told CBS the endgame of military action was “very uncertain” and acknowledged it could end in a stalemate with Gadhafi.
Mullen said he had seen no reports of civilian casualties from the Western strikes. But Russia said there had been such casualties and called on Britain, France and the United States to halt the “non-selective use of force.”
Western intervention, after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed with a mix of apprehension and relief in Benghazi where the main hospital was filled with men, women and children wounded in Saturdayâ€™s assault on the city by Gadhafiâ€™s forces.
“We salute France, Britain, the United States and the Arab countries for standing with Libya. But we think Gadhafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard,” said civil servant Khalid al-Ghurfaly, 38.
Outside the eastern city, the advance by Gadhafiâ€™s troops was stopped in its tracks with smouldering, shattered tanks and troop carriers littering the main road. The charred bodies of at least 14 government soldiers lay scattered in the desert.
“Gadhafi is like a chicken and the coalition is plucking his feathers so he canâ€™t fly. The revolutionaries will slit his neck,” said Fathi Bin Saud, a 52-year-old rebel carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, surveying the devastation.
Insurgents, fighting a month-old uprising to end Gadhafiâ€™s 41 years in power, advanced south from Benghazi towards the strategic junction at Ajdabiyah which they lost last week.
But in Misrata, east of Tripoli, residents said government tanks and snipers had entered the centre of the city after a base outside it had been hit by Western air strikes. “Two people were killed so far today by snipers. They (snipers) are still on the rooftops. They are backed with four tanks, which have been patrolling the town. Itâ€™s getting very difficult for people to come out,” one Misrata resident, called Sami, told Reuters by telephone.
“There are also boats encircling the port and preventing aid from reaching the town.”
Abdelbasset, a spokesman for the rebels in Misrata, told Reuters: “There is fighting between the rebels and Gadhafiâ€™s forces. Their tanks are in the centre of Misrata … There are so many casualties we cannot count them.”
QATAR SENDING PLANES
French planes fired the first shots of the intervention on Saturday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi. The eastern city is the cradle of the anti-Gadhafi revolt that started last month, inspired by Arab uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
France sent an aircraft carrier towards Libya and its planes were over the country again on Sunday, defence officials said. Britain said its planes had targeted Libyaâ€™s air defences mainly around the capital Tripoli.
US and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles overnight against air defences around the capital Tripoli and Misrata, US military officials said.
They said US forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation “Odyssey Dawn.” Four Danish fighter planes took off from a base in Italy, apparently to join the mission over Libya.
Aircraft from other countries, including Qatar, were also moving near Libya to participate in the operation, Mullen said.
Explosions and heavy anti-aircraft fire rattled Tripoli in the early hours of Sunday. Defiant cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) echoed around the city centre.
Libyan state television showed footage from an unidentified hospital of what it called victims of the “colonial enemy.” Ten bodies were wrapped up in white and blue bed sheets, and several people were wounded, one of them badly, the television said.
The mood in Tripoli turned markedly anti-Western, and crowds shouted defiant slogans and shot in the air.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.