West mobilises for Libya air strikes

18th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A coalition of Western nations geared up Friday to launch quick air strikes against Libya after the UN approved military action to stop Moamer Kadhafi from crushing insurgents.

As NATO gathered to discuss its next moves, the United States, Britain and France were expected to scramble fighter jets against Kadhafi's forces after they secured the UN Security Council's blessing.

Amid warnings of imminent military action, Europe's air traffic agency banned civilian flights to and over Libya while British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would deploy Torpedo and Typhoon fighter jets.

"Preparations to deploy these have already started and in the coming hours they will move to airbases from where they can take the necessary action," Cameron told his parliament.

Britain has two frigates, HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster, already in the Mediterranean and an airbase on Cyprus which could be used to launch attacks.

The strikes will come "rapidly... within a few hours," French government spokesman Francois Baroin said after the UN Security Council approved "all necessary measures" to impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

The goal of the operation would be to "protect the Libyan people and to allow them to go all the way in their drive for freedom, which means bringing down the Kadhafi regime," Baroin told RTL radio.

The three military powers could be joined by Canada, which according to Canadian media planned to deploy six CF-18 fighter jets.

Norway said it would take part in the operation and Denmark awaited parliament approval before joining the action with F-16 warplanes. Poland offered logistical support but no role in a military strike force.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi convened emergency talks with top defence officials to examine "Italy's contribution in the implementation of the no-fly zone," a government source said.

The West could be joined by Arab nations in the endeavour after the Arab League pressed for the international community to impose a no-fly zone against Kadhafi's forces.

Qatar's foreign ministry said the Gulf state would "contribute in the efforts aiming at stopping bloodshed and protecting civilians in Libya" and urged quick action, the state news agency said.

The UN's approval of the measures sparked celebrations in the rebel bastion of Benghazi in eastern Libya where the opposition had urged the international community to act quickly.

NATO meanwhile was holding a meeting to decide what, if any, role it may take as an organisation.

"For any NATO operation, there needs to be a demonstrable need for the alliance to act, firm regional support and a clear legal basis," said Oana Lungescu, spokeswoman for the 28-nation military alliance of North American and European nations, as well as Turkey.

"Under those three conditions, NATO stands ready to act as part of the broad international effort," she said.

NATO allies have been divided about intervening in Libya, with Germany and Turkey voicing opposition to a military intervention, while France has indicated that it would prefer action through a coalition of nations.

Belgium said it was ready to intervene under the NATO umbrella, with six F-16 jets and a frigate.

Germany was among five nations, alongside China and Russia, that abstained from voting for the UN resolution, which passed 10-0 late Thursday.

Warning of "considerable risks and dangers," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insisted no German troops would participate in military intervention.

"We remain eminently sceptical on the option of military intervention... anticipated in this resolution," a statement said.

Russia also ruled out taking part in the operation.

© 2011 AFP

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