West pounds Libya, Kadhafi vows long war in Med

20th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

US, British and French forces hammered Libya from the air and sea, prompting leader Moamer Kadhafi to warn Sunday of a long war in the Mediterranean "battlefield" as Tripoli reported dozens of deaths.

In Benghazi, medics and AFP correspondents said at least 94 people died in an assault launched on Friday on the rebel-held Mediterranean city by forces loyal to Kadhafi.

In the West's biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, mounted exactly eight years earlier, US warships and a British submarine fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya on Saturday, the US military said.

And three US B-2 stealth bombers dropped 40 bombs on a major airfield in a bid to destroy much of the Libyan air force, CBS News reported, while fighter planes also searched for ground forces to attack.

A furious Kadhafi said on Sunday that all Libyans were armed and ready to fight until victory to defeat what Tripoli has branded a "barbaric aggression."

"We promise you a long, drawn-out war with no limits," said the Libyan leader, who was speaking on state television for a second straight day without appearing in front of camera.

The leaders of Britain, France and the United States will "fall like Hitler... Mussolini," warned the strongman of oil-rich Libya who has ruled for four decades but been confronted with an armed uprising since mid-February.

"America, France, or Britain, the Christians that are in a pact against us today, they will not enjoy our oil," he said. "We do not have to retreat from the battlefield because we are defending our land and our dignity."

US President Barack Obama said the "Odyssey Dawn" operation launched under a UN Security Council resolution was a "limited military action," unlike the regime change aims of the war against Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

He pledged no US troops would be deployed on the ground, unlike in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the resolution backed by the Arab League, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani defended Doha's declared participation in the strikes on a fellow Arab state, saying the sole aim was to "stop the bloodbath."

AFP journalists reported a lull in the air strikes on both Tripoli and around Benghazi early on Sunday, as residents who had fled were seen returning to the rebels' capital in eastern Libya.

Benghazi, where a semblance of normality returned with cars out on the road and street markets reopened, was still in rebel hands and Kadhafi forces were believed to be stationed on the outskirts.

But as Libya reported at least 48 dead in the West's air strikes, medics in Benghazi said 85 civilians and rebels were killed in fighting with Kadhafi's forces on Friday and Saturday.

Separately, AFP correspondents counted nine bodies of Kadhafi loyalists in a Benghazi hospital and more dead were expected to be brought in.

US Admiral William Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon the cruise missiles "struck more than 20 integrated air defence systems and other air defence facilities ashore."

The British government said it was taking "every precaution" to avoid civilian casualties.

"We should treat with some caution some of the things we see on Libyan state television," Finance Minister George Osborne told BBC television. "The targets last night were very specifically military targets" linked to air defences.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that Kadhafi was feeling the "unified will" of the international community through the military campaign.

"He has been killing his own people. He declared that he will search house to house and kill all the people. That is unacceptable," the UN secretary general told AFP in Paris.

The barrage came two days after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 with Arab backing authorised military action to prevent Kadhafi's forces from attacking civilians to put down the uprising.

An AFP correspondent said bombs were dropped earlier Sunday near Bab al-Aziziyah, Kadhafi's Tripoli headquarters, prompting barrages of anti-aircraft fire from Libyan forces that lasted about 40 minutes.

State television showed footage of hundreds of Kadhafi supporters who it said had gathered earlier to serve as human shields at Bab al-Aziziyah and at the capital's international airport.

A Libyan official said at least 48 people had died and 150 were hurt -- mainly women and children -- in the assaults, which began with a strike at 1645 GMT on Saturday by a French warplane.

Libyan state media said Western warplanes had on Saturday night bombed civilian targets in Tripoli, causing casualties while an army spokesman said strikes also hit fuel tanks feeding the rebel-held city of Misrata, east of Tripoli.

Kadhafi, in a brief audio message on Saturday night also broadcast on state television, fiercely denounced the attacks as a "barbaric, unjustified Crusaders' aggression."

He vowed retaliatory strikes on military and civilian targets in the Mediterranean, which he said had been turned into a "real battlefield."

Libya's foreign ministry said that following the attacks, it regarded as invalid the UN resolution ordering a ceasefire by its forces and demanded an urgent meeting of the Security Council.

The attacks on Libya "threaten international peace and security," the ministry said.

"Libya demands an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council after the French-American-British aggression against Libya, an independent state member of the United Nations," it said.

Resolution 1973 authorised the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Kadhafi's forces.

The following day, Libya declared a ceasefire in its battle to crush an armed revolt against Kadhafi's regime which began on February 15 and said it had grounded its warplanes.

As a result of the Western attacks, however, "the effect of Resolution 1973 imposing a no-fly zone are over," the ministry statement said.

The first Tomahawk missile struck at 1900 GMT on Saturday after air strikes carried out earlier by French warplanes, said Admiral Gortney, director of the US joint staff.

"It's a first phase of a multi-phase operation" to enforce the UN resolution and prevent the Libyan regime from using force "against its own people," he said.

One British submarine joined with two American guided-missile destroyers, the USS Stout and the USS Barry, and three US subs, the USS Providence, the USS Scranton and USS Florida.

Russia expressed regret over the attacks and said Resolution 1973 was "adopted in haste," while the African Union, which opposed military action, on Sunday called for an "immediate stop" to all attacks.

China also voiced regret over the air strikes, saying it opposed the use of force in international relations.

But British Prime Minister David Cameron said he held Kadhafi responsible for the situation in his country. The military aim was "to enforce the will of the United Nations and to protect the Libyan people," he said.

"We have all seen the appalling brutality that Colonel Kadhafi has meted out against his own people and far from introducing the ceasefire he spoke about he has actually stepped up the attacks and the brutality."

In the rebel camp, celebratory gunfire and honking of car horns broke out in Al-Marj, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Benghazi, to welcome the start of military operations against Kadhafi.

Since Friday, Libya's has insisted it was observing a self-declared ceasefire. It said its armed forces had come under attack on Saturday west of Benghazi, including by rebel aircraft, and had responded in self-defence.

But the rebels said government troops had continued to bombard cities, violating the ceasefire.

© 2011 AFP

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