British joins Libya assault with strikes on air defence

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British missiles pounded Libyan air defences Saturday as military intervention swung into action, with Prime Minister David Cameron urging an end to the "appalling brutality" of Moamer Kadhafi's regime.

As the multinational assault to enforce a UN resolution began, a British submarine fired Tomahawk missiles at targets in Libya in a joint attack with American forces that saw more than 110 missiles launched.

The coordinated attack from ships and submarines 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.

Speaking in London, Cameron said: "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.

"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.

"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, 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.

With the shadow of Britain's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq hanging over him, Cameron defended the action as necessary, legal and right.

"It is necessary because, with others, we should be trying to prevent him 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."

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.

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 a summit in Paris to discuss the crisis on Saturday.

Qatar and several European nations, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, have confirmed their will to take part in the UN-sanctioned military intervention in Libya.

© 2011 AFP

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