Britain joins Libya assault with strikes on air defence

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A British submarine fired missiles into Libya Saturday as military intervention swung into action, with Prime Minister David Cameron urging an end to Moamer Kadhafi's "appalling brutality".

As the international assault to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone began, the Trafalgar-class submarine launched Tomahawk cruise missiles in a joint attack with American forces that saw more than 110 rockets fired.

The coordinated attack from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean hit more than 20 targets onshore as part of the action to stop Libyan leader Kadhafi's forces crushing an uprising, according to a top US military officer.

France -- which with Britain had been leading calls for action in the face of initial US reluctance -- earlier Saturday started the assault with a series of air strikes following a crisis summit of world powers in Paris.

Speaking in London after rushing back from the summit, Cameron said the action was "necessary, legal and right".

"Tonight, British forces are in action over Libya. They are part of an international coalition that has come together 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."

British military spokesman Major General John Lorimer said the missile strike was just a first step, as international forces seek to knock out air defences so they can enforce the no-fly zone with jets patrolling the skies.

"UK and partner forces remain engaged in ongoing operations as we seek to ensure that Colonel Kadhafi and his forces understand that the international community will not stand by and watch them kill civilians," he said.

Britain has moved Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets to bases near Libya to take part in the action, which British officials have codenamed "Operation Ellamy".

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

Speaking in the United States, US Admiral William Gortney said that multinational forces were not using aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone yet but were "setting the conditions to be able to reach that state".

With the shadow of Britain's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq hanging over him, Cameron went to great lengths to defend the intervention, which is the first time he has sent troops into action since becoming premier.

"It is necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him [Kadhafi] using his military against his own people," he said.

"It is legal, because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council and also of the Arab League and many others.

"And it is right because we believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people."

Cameron also praised the British armed forces as the "bravest of the brave."

The UN Security Council resolution passed on Thursday authorised the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Kadhafi's forces.

The intervention is backed by Arab states and several European nations, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, have confirmed their will to take part.

© 2011 AFP

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