Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed to repel allied forces pounding military installations in his country as the U.S. said the opening phase of an operation to stop him killing civilians had been “very effective.”
Qaddafi denounced the coalition including the U.S., the U.K. and France allied against him as “the party of Satan” after Tomahawk missiles were fired at Libyan targets overnight and fighter jets patrolled the North African country’s skies. The military action continued today with B-2 bombers attacking airfields and air-defense sites, CBS reported.
“We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states that are now aligned against us,” the Libyan leader, who has ruled since 1969, said today on state television. “We will not leave our land. We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it.”
The coalition ordered Qaddafi to withdraw his forces from major cities after weeks of fighting with rebels that has left hundreds dead in the bloodiest of popular uprisings to have swept the Middle East this year.
Libya’s armed forces announced they were imposing a nationwide cease-fire starting this evening. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “I sincerely hope and urge that Libyan authorities keep their word” on the halt.
At a Pentagon briefing this afternoon, Vice Admiral William Gortney said that the coalition forces now control the air space over Libya and that all air crews have returned safely to their bases. He said that there are no plans to send in ground troops and that he can’t estimate the cost of the attacks on Libya.
A no-fly zone has now been put in place over Libya, said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The opening phase of the military strikes has had “a pretty significant effect very early” and Qaddafi’s forces have been pushed back from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Mullen said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program today.
“The initial operations have been very effective, taking out most of his air-defense systems, some of his air fields,” Mullen said. “Yet there is still, I think, a great deal to be done.”
Asked in an NBC “Meet the Press” interview today if the mission could be accomplished with Qaddafi still in power, Mullen said: “That’s certainly potentially one outcome.”
Italy has made eight warplanes available for action in Libya, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told RAI television. The government in Rome has frozen more than 6 billion euros ($8.5 billion) of Libyan assets, an Italian official said, speaking on the condition of not being further identified.
Talks are underway for an emergency meeting of Arab League nations to discuss the situation in Libya, the Egyptian government-owned Middle East News Agency cited Secretary General Amr Moussa as saying. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Al Thani was earlier cited as saying the country will take part in the military action against Libya, the country’s state- run news agency reported.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in Paris that Arab participation was “extraordinarily important.” More can be expected from the Middle East states, she said.
A United Nations resolution passed March 17 permits “all necessary measures” short of an occupation to protect civilians from the violence. Western leaders haven’t said what they’ll do if the no-fly zone fails to force Qaddafi to comply.
U.K.’s Foreign Office said in a statement that “we will continue to work with our Arab partners to enforce the resolution for the good of the Libyan people.”
None of the countries involved in military operations in Libya “are envisaging a ground offensive,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an interview with Sky News.
As many as 25 vessels, including the USS Mount Whitney command vessel, were coordinated to weaken Libya’s command-and- control capability, U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortley said in Washington. The military actions late yesterday were the first in a “multiphase” operation meant to “shape the battle space,” he said.
The U.K. has deployed a number of Typhoon aircraft to the Gioia Dell Colle airbase, in southern Italy, “where they are on standby for future tasking,” defense spokesman Major General John Lorimer said.
The priority of the coalition forces is to stop Qaddafi “brutalizing” his own people, not to implement “regime change,” Defense Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC’s Politics Show in London today. The Libyan leader could well “hunker down” and remain in the country, he said.
Qaddafi’s regime “may remain in existence,” Fox said. “Whether it remains in power is a very different issue.”
Libya’s crude oil exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to facilities and international sanctions, the International Energy Agency said March 15. Crude oil for April delivery slipped 9 cents to $101.07 a barrel this week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Concern about disruption to Middle East oil supplies has sent futures up about 23 percent from a year ago.
Qaddafi is likely to use tactics such as his proposed cease-fire to stall for time, an approach that could prolong the conflict and affect the oil industry, said Mohammed el-Katiri, Middle East analyst for the Eurasia Group.
“A prolonged stalemate could also lead to the division of the country, which is not an outcome that most Libyans prefer, and which would have negative implications for the energy sector,” el-Katiri said in e-mailed comments.
No ‘Regime Change’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had been speaking to Libya’s prime minister and foreign minister, though he had not had any recent contact with Qaddafi. “I am not here to talk about regime change,” he said in an interview in Paris today. “That should be determined by the people of the country of Libya.”
“Even now, if they stop completely this military action against the populations then there could be some ways for discussions,” said Ban.
Libyan state television said 48 people were killed and 150 injured in the air strikes yesterday. Mullen said he has seen “no reports of any kind of significant civilian casualties.”
Clashes between rebels and Qaddafi loyalists continued in Misrata, where Al Jazeera reported three government tanks entering the city center.
The Libyan revolt is the bloodiest in a series of uprisings this year that have toppled Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak. There have also been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Oman.
Describing the military mission as “limited,” Admiral Mullen said he couldn’t say whether it would end with the removal of Qaddafi from power.
“How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can’t say,” Mullen said on CNN. “I think the pressure will continue to build on him.”