Warplanes, missiles hit Gaddafi forces
Tripoli, March 20, 2011
European and US forces unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Muammar Gaddafi's troops in the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Libyan state television said 48 people had been killed and 150 wounded in the allied 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.
CBS News on its website said on Sunday that three US B-2 stealth bombers had dropped 40 bombs on a 'major Libyan airfield' that was not further identified. A Pentagon spokesman said he had no information about such an attack.
French planes fired the first shots on Saturday in a campaign to force Gaddafi's troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians. the warplanes destroyed tanks and armoured vehicles in the region of the rebels' eastern stronghold, Benghazi. Hours later, US and British warships and submarines launched 110 Tomahawk missiles against air defences around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gaddafi's forces, US military officials said.
They said US forces and planes were working with Britain, France, Canada and Italy in operation 'Odyssey Dawn'. Gaddafi 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 honour of Libya,' he said in an audio message broadcast on state television hours after the strikes began.
Western air forces were expected to use the coming of daylight on Sunday assess what damage they had done. China and Russia, which abstained in the UN 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. The shooting was followed by defiant shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' that 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 Gaddafi's forces.
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.
The intervention, after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, was welcomed in Benghazi with a mix of apprehension and relief. 'We think this will end Gaddafi'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 Gaddafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard,' said civil servant Khalid al-Ghurfaly, 38.
The strikes, launched from some 25 ships, including three US submarines, in the Mediterranean, followed a meeting in Paris of Western and Arab leaders backing the intervention.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said participants had agreed to use 'all necessary means, especially military' to enforce the Security Council resolution calling for an end to attacks on civilians.
'Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen,' British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters after the meeting. 'We cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.' - Reuters