West unleashes air strikes, Gadhafi defiant

West unleashes air strikes, Gadhafi defiant
TRIPOLI — European and U.S. forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces in the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Libyan state television said 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded in the Western air strikes. It also said there had been a fresh wave of strikes on Tripoli early on Sunday.

There was no way to independently verify the claims.

Libya's Al-Watyah air base, 170 km (100 miles) southwest of the capital Tripoli, was among the targets of Western air strikes overnight, a Libyan military official said.

"They tried to attack the (base's) anti-aircraft defenses," said the official, who did not want to be identified. "Some were damaged." He said there was no other damage to the base.

French planes fired the first shots on Saturday in a campaign to force Gadhafi's troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians.

The warplanes destroyed tanks and armoured vehicles near Benghazi, eastern stronghold of the rebels who, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world, launched a revolt against Gadhafi's 41-year-rule last month.

Burned out military vehicles lined the main road into Benghazi on Sunday as the rebels advanced back towards the strategic town of Ajdabiyah they lost last week.

One tank had its turret blown off. A tank transporter, tank and an armoured personnel carrier were still smouldering. Fourteen bodies lay in the desert next to the vehicles.

"This is all France ... Today we came through and saw the road open," said rebel fighter Tahir Sassi, surveying the scene.

U.S. and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles overnight against air defences around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi's forces, U.S. military officials said.
On Sunday, BBC News reported that pro-Gadhafi troops killed "at least" 51 people in renewed attacks on Misrata.

They said U.S. forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation "Odyssey Dawn". Denmark said it had four fighter planes ready to join in on Sunday and was awaiting U.S. instructions.

Gadhafi said the raids amounted to terrorism. He said all Libyans had now been armed to defend the country and Western defeat was inevitable.

"We will not leave our land and we will liberate it," he said in a speech on state television. "We will remain alive and you will all die."

The head of the Arab League criticized the strikes on Libya, saying they caused civilian deaths.

The Arab League's support for a no-fly zone last week helped overcome reluctance in the West for action in Libya. The U.N. authorized not only a no-fly zone but also "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

But Amr Moussa said the military operations had gone beyond what the Arab League backed.

Moussa told reporters Sunday that "what happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives." He says "what we want is civilians' protection not shelling more civilians."
Western air forces were expected to use the coming of daylight on Sunday to assess what damage they had done, and there appeared to be a lull in the aerial bombardment.

China and Russia, which abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote last week endorsing intervention, expressed regret at the military action. China's Foreign Ministry said it hoped the conflict would not lead to a greater loss of civilian life.
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.

Tripoli residents said they had heard an explosion near the eastern Tajoura district, while in Misrata they said strikes had targeted an airbase used by Gadhafi's forces. Gadhafi's troops were still surrounding Misrata on Sunday, a resident said, three government snipers were posted on rooftops in the city centre.

"They seem to be ready to fire at anything that moves," the resident, named Mohammed, told Reuters.

A Reuters witness in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi reported loud explosions and anti-aircraft fire during the night, but it was unclear which side was shooting.
The intervention, after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed in Benghazi with a mix of apprehension and relief.

"We think this will end Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard," said civil servant Khalid al-Ghurfaly, 38.

Benghazi's main hospital was filled with men, women and children wounded in Saturday's assault on the city by Gadhafi's forces. There were 24 bodies, including eight government troops, visible in the morgue and more in refrigerators.

Losing his grip?
The strikes, launched from some 25 ships, including three U.S. submarines, in the Mediterranean, followed a meeting in Paris of Western and Arab leaders backing the intervention.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the allies had agreed to use "all necessary means, especially military" to enforce the Security Council resolution for an end to attacks on civilians.

"Colonel Gadhafi 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.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that outside powers hoped their intervention would be enough to turn the tide against Gadhafi and allow Libyans to force him out.

"It is our belief that if Mr. Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi 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, President Barack Obama specifically called on Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi 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 neutralise that."

France and Britain have taken a lead role in pushing for international intervention in Libya. The United States, after embarking on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, acknowledged on Saturday it was in charge of operations but said it intended to switch to a "coalition command" in the coming days.

Source: Msnbc