Coalition launches military action in Libya after summit
French warplanes carried out air strikes in Libya Saturday, followed by US and British forces firing Tomahawk cruise missiles, just hours after French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the launch of military action against Moamer Kadhafi's forces.
He was backed by Western countries and Arab allies in their bid to stop Kadhafi's offensive against rebels, but there was criticism from Russia and the African Union.
The first shots came after Sarkozy agreed at a Paris summit with European leaders, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League envoys to use air power to enforce a UN resolution.
"In agreement with our partners, our air force will oppose any attack by Colonel Kadhafi's planes on the people of Benghazi," Sarkozy said, referring to the Libyan rebels' bastion.
"Our planes are already preventing air strikes on the city," he said.
In Washington later Saturday, a top military officer said US and British forces have fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Kadhafi's air defense sites.
Admiral William Gortney told reporters that "earlier this afternoon over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both US and British ships and submarines struck more than 20 integrated air defense systems and other air defense facilities ashore" in Libya.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he held Kadhafi responsible for the situation in his country and that "the time for action" by the international community had come.
"Colonel Kadhafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people," Cameron told British television.
Sarkozy, Cameron and Clinton discussed sharing out the military roles ahead of the summit, sources said. France and Britain would focus on air strikes, while other NATO countries would police the no-fly zone, the sources said.
Western nations have called for strong Arab support for the military operation after Arab League foreign ministers called for the no-fly zone over Libya last week.
In response, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa attended the Paris summit.
Qatar and several European nations, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, confirmed their will to take part in a UN-sanctioned military intervention in Libya, a diplomat said.
Speaking after the meeting, Clinton said that the aim of the UN Security Council resolution passed Thursday was "to protect civilians and to provide access for humanitarian assistance" rather than specifically topple Kadhafi.
But, she said, "certainly the conditions that will unfold as we begin to enforce this resolution will make a new environment in which people are going to act, including those around Colonel Kadhafi."
UN chief Ban said that he found Libya's response in a telephone call to the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire "troubling".
Ban said his suspicions were aroused by what he described as a "troubling" telephone call from the Libyan prime minister on Friday night which asserted a ceasefire was in progress.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero said Spain would help set up the no-fly zone by providing an airborne refuelling plane and four F-18 fighters that would leave on Saturday for an Italian air base.
"We must help the Libyan people, help them now, or the threat to them and to the stability of the whole region will only increase, " Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said: "Belgium will make available F-16s currently in southern Greece."
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed that Italian bases would be available to help enforce the no-fly zone over its former colony, adding that further Italian participation could follow.
Russia regrets the armed intervention by foreign forces in Libya, foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement Saturday.
"In Moscow we regret this armed intervention within UN resolution 1973 which was adopted in haste," he said.
The statement also called for a ceasefire in the north African country as soon as possible.
A high-level African Union panel on the Libyan crisis Saturday rejected "any kind of foreign military intervention" there, Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz said.
© 2011 AFP