US forces go on the offensive in Libya


Western forces hit targets along the Libyan coast on Saturday, destroying tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels’ eastern stronghold, Benghazi, using strikes from air and sea to force Muammar Qaddafis troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians.

Libyan state television reported that the airstrikes on several cities had killed 48 people and wounded 150 in ‘civilian areas’. The statement by the Libyan armed forces said the capital Tripoli as well as the cities of Sirte, Benghazi, Misrata and Zuwarah were hit.

French planes fired the first shots in what is the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The missile strikes came exactly 8 years to the day after the beginning of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Hours later, U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles against air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi’s forces, U.S. military officials said.

They said U.S. forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation “Odyssey Dawn”.

Libyan state television also said that fuel storage tanks that supplied Misrata had been hit.

In Tripoli residents said they had heard an explosion near eastern Tajoura district, while in Misrata they said strikes had targeted an airbase where Qaddafi’s forces were based.

In Benghazi, the international intervention, which followed weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed 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.

“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.”

Qaddafi seen losing grip on Libya

The air strikes, launched from a flotilla of some 25 coalition ships, including three U.S. 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.

“Colonel 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 U.S. insistence — repeated on Saturday — that it has no plans to send ground troops into Libya.

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 Gaddafi 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 Qadaffi’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 Qadaffi 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.”

Copyright (c) March 19, 2011. All rights reserved.

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