American and European forces have begun a broad campaign of strikes against the Libyan Government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen since the Iraq war.
In Washington, the Pentagon said that American forces were targeting Libya’s air-defense systems, firing volley after volley of Tomahawk missiles from nearby ships against missile, radar and communications centers round Tripoli, the capital, and the western cities of Misurata and Surt.
Early Sunday, the sound of anti-aircraft fire and screaming fighter jets echoed across Tripoli, punctuated by heavy explosions.
Mohamed Zweid, the secretary of the Libyan Parliament, called the intervention “a barbaric and armed attack” and said that it had “caused some real harm against civilians and buildings.”
He, however, declined to specify which civilian buildings or locations were hit.
US President Barack Obama, speaking during a visit to Brazil, reiterated promises that no American ground forces would be used.
Foreign news agencies reported that at least 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired on Saturday at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya’s air force.
Obama said he was convinced it was necessary to save the lives of civilians in Libya.
Vice Admiral William E. Gortney, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters the cruise missile assault was the “leading edge” of a coalition campaign dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn.
Its aim he said was to prevent Gaddafi’s forces from inflicting more violence on civilians-particularly in and around the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
A chief target of Saturday’s cruise missile attack was Libya’s SA-5 surface-to-air missiles, which are considered a moderate threat to some allied aircraft.
Cruise missiles are the weapon of first choice in such campaigns as they do not ut pilots at risk, and they use navigational technologies that provide good precision.
The United States is reported to have at least 11 naval vessels in the Mediterranean, including three submarines, two destroyers, two amphibious warfare ships and the USS Mount Whitney, a command-and-control vessel that is the flagship of the Navy’s 6th Fleet.
Also in the area are Navy P-3 and EP-3 surveillance aircraft, officials said.
Vice Admiral Gortney said it would take as long as 12 hours to assess the effectiveness of Saturday’s strikes.
Then a high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane would overfly the target areas to get a more precise view, the admiral said.
He would not say how long the attacks on Libyan air defenses would last, but he stressed that Saturday’s assault with cruise missiles was the first phase of a multi-stage mission.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was scheduled to begin a weeklong trip to Russia, has postponed his departure for 24 hours to monitor developments in Libya.
At a news conference in Paris, Clinton said Gaddafi had left the world no choice but to intervene urgently and forcefully to protect further loss of civilian life.
See Related: Libya Archive
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