British and French leaders began preparing for possible air strikes against Libya after a United Nations vote cleared the way for the first Western military action against an Arab country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament in London today that the U.K. would “in the coming hours” deploy Tornado and Typhoon warplanes, air-to-air refuelling craft and surveillance aircraft to enforce the UN’s no-fly zone aimed at Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
“There will be a clear statement later today setting out what we now expect from Colonel Qaddafi,” Cameron said, adding that he’ll attend a meeting in Paris tomorrow hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy with the Arab League. France would join any military operation against Libya, government spokesman Francois Baroin told RTL radio.
Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, signaled after the UN resolution that government troops won’t try to enter the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, though they will encircle it, backing away from earlier threats, Agence France-Presse reported. Qaddafi had said he’d “destroy” the opposition movement, recapture Benghazi, a city of 1 million people, and show “no mercy” to “traitors” who don’t surrender.
Troops loyal to Qaddafi shelled the city of Misrata with heavy artillery today, Al Arabiya TV said, citing witnesses. Al Arabiya reported four killed and 70 injured in the city, citing doctors and medical staff
The UN Security Council voted yesterday to ground Qaddafi’s air force and grant military authority to the U.S. and its allies to protect civilians and population centers. The announcement drew cheers and celebratory gunfire from anti- Qaddafi Libyans gathered in Benghazi. Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia abstained from voting in New York. Oil extended gains on the prospect of a broader conflict in Libya, which holds Africa’s largest reserves.
France’s Figaro newspaper said military action could include jamming Libyan communications, bombing tanks and artillery and strikes on the “center of gravity” of the regime which may mean targeting Libyan leaders.
“It may start with a mixture of cruise missiles and air strikes,” said Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the NATO Defense College in Rome and the German Defense Ministry.
‘Blind the Leadership’
“The first things they’ll hit are the command and control centers in order to blind the Libyan leadership,” Techau said. “They may then conduct very selective air operations against artillery posts and tank columns.”
The UN’s principal policy-making panel voted 10 to 0, with the five abstentions, to adopt a resolution that establishes a no-fly zone over Libya, demands a cease-fire and allows “all necessary measures” to protect civilians “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
President Barack Obama called Cameron and Sarkozy last night to discuss enacting the resolution, the White House said in a statement. The three agreed to work closely with Arab and other international partners on enforcing the terms of the resolution and called for an end to the violence against civilians in Libya, the White House said.
The U.S. ordered 400 Marines and two Navy vessels, including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, to the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said March 1. At the time, he said the ships were sent to help with evacuations and for humanitarian relief.
Several destroyers and submarines in the Mediterranean are “available for tasking as required,” Admiral Gary Roughead, the Pentagon’s chief of naval operations, told a Senate subcommittee on March 16.
Italian newspapers, including Corriere della Sera, reported today that the government would make three bases available to support a no-fly zone -- Sigonella and Trapani Birgi in Sicily and Gioia del Colle near the southern city of Bari.
At Sigonella, one of the closest NATO bases to Libya, about 340 miles (547 kilometers) from Tripoli and 465 miles from Benghazi, the U.S. Navy has its own installation. It is the “primary logistical support element for the U.S. Sixth Fleet operations,” according to the website of the U.S. base.
Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said yesterday that Italy “wouldn’t back away from its commitment” to the international community. Italy’s government and top military officials will meet in Rome today to discuss a possible role in carrying out the no-fly zone, Ansa newswire reported, citing unidentified government sources.
Turkey, a majority-Muslim member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, does not support military intervention in Libya “for the moment,” said Selcuk Unal, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
Denmark has committed to sending six F-16 fighter planes to help back the no-fly zone, Copenhagen-based newswire Ritzau reported, citing Defense Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech. Canada will deploy six CF-18 fighter jets, Postmedia News reported, citing unnamed sources.
Qatar plans to take part in the mission to protect Libyan civilians under the UN resolution, the state-run Qatar News Agency reported today citing a government spokesman.
“The United Arab Emirates and Qatar may be involved,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said in a telephone interview. “Saudi could also be involved too, but given that they’re mired in Bahrain, we’re going to have to see,” he said, adding that the only Arab friend that Qaddafi has left is Syria and “they don’t have the capabilities.”
Libyan Deputy UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi -- who has broken with the Qaddafi regime -- said five Arab nations have agreed to contribute to the no-fly zone, and diplomats said that group would include Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. deployed forces against Libya in the 1980s.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who called Qaddafi “the mad dog of the Middle East,” banned the import of Libyan oil and a number of exports to Libya. The U.S. bombed Tripoli in 1986 in retaliation for an attack on a Berlin discotheque that killed two U.S. servicemen.
Libya came under U.S. and UN sanctions in the 1980s and 1990s over accusations of planning terrorist attacks, including the 1988 bombing of the Pan American World Airways Boeing Co. 747 over Lockerbie that killed 270 people.
The turnaround in relations with the West started in 1999, when Qaddafi allowed the extradition of two Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing. He abandoned a nuclear-arms development effort after 2002 while also pledging to destroy a chemical weapons stockpile and renouncing terrorism.
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