Saturday, March 19, 2011

Live Blog: Conflict in Libya

Live Blog: Conflict in Libya

Associated Press
Libyan rebels celebrate on a captured Government tank in the outskirts of Benghazi on Saturday.
As French jets fly over parts of Libya to protect civilians, rebel gunmen said they were fighting an advance by Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s in the opposition stronghold of Behghazi. Meanwhile, the mood among top officials in Tripoli is swinging from denial to defiance to conciliation, Wall Street Journal reporter Sam Dagher writes.
Stay tuned to Dispatch for updates on the conflict in Libya and the world response. See more photos from the area in our slideshow, and track developments in Libya in an interactive map.
  • Russia said the U.N. Security Council resolution was "hastily approved" and said it regrets the start of the international military operation, the Associated Press is reporting.
    Moscow, which did not block the resolution, urged "exhaustive measures to ensure the safety of foreign diplomatic missions and their staff."
  • The Associated Pres is providing a good rundown of some of the international military assets being brought to bear in the response to the conflict in Libya.
    • France: Deploying a dozen Mirage and Rafale jets to survey rebel-held Benghazi. The Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier will be sent to the region as well.
    • U.S.: Prepared to launch missile attacks on Libyan air defenses. Has two guided-missile destroyers in the Mediterranean, the USS Barry and USS Stout; two amphibious warships, the USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce; and a command-and-control ship, the USS Mount Whitney. The submarine USS Providence was also in the Mediterranean. Witnesses reported five F-18s, two C-17s and a C-130 cargo plane arrived at U.S. air base at Aviano in northern Italy, which is home to the 31st Fighter Wing.
    • Canada: Sent six F-18s to bases in Italy; 140 military personnel are involved. The Frigate HMCS Charlottetown is in the Mediterranean.
    • Denmark: Six F-16s arrived at U.S. air base in Sigonella, Sicily and could be deployed as early as Sunday; 132 support staff.
    • Italy: Offered use of seven military bases: U.S. air bases at Sigonella, Sicily and Aviano in northern Italy; Italian air bases in Amendola near Foggia, Decimomannu in Sardinia, Gioia del Colle near Bari, base on Sicilian island of Pantelleria, and the military airport of Trapani, Sicily. Proposed NATO base in Naples serve as coordination point for operation.
    • Spain: Sent four F-18s and a Boeing 707 refueling plane to Italy base. Deploying a submarine, naval frigate and a surveillance plane. Placed two bases at NATO's disposal, Rota and Moron de la Frontera.
    • U.K.: Said it would send Typhoon and Tornado jets to air bases. Air base in Cyprus supporting AWACS surveillance aircraft. Two British frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, are in the Mediterranean off Libya's coast ready to assist.
    • Norway: Offered six F-16s, with around 100 support staff, but operational capabilities are five to six days away.

  • In the photo above, a French Rafale fighter plane takes off from military base Saint-Dizier, France, on Saturday and heads to Libya. (Photo by Zuma Press)
    The Journal's Keith Johnson and David Gauthier Villars have more details from Paris on today's French mission.
    France has engaged about 20 fighter jets as well as refueling planes to conduct a two-pronged mission, Defense Ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire told reporters in Paris.
    A first group of aircraft was focused on preventing the Libyan air force from getting close to Benghazi, the last stronghold of opposition to Col. Gadhafi, Mr. Teisseire said. The second group is to protect the Benghazi population against attacks by Col. Gadhafi’s tanks and other ground vehicles.
    The spokesman said France would dispatch its Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier to Libya on Sunday.
    For more on the international reaction from the Journal's reporters in Europe, read here.

  • An international coalition is strengthening military resources at Italian bases for action against Libya.
    The Associated Press reports that six Danish F-16 fighter jets landed Saturday at the U.S. air base in Sicily, and U.S., Canadian and Spanish F-18s flew into the region as well. Italy, which lies across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, has offered the use of seven of its military bases.
    Meanwhile, one of the two British bases in Cyprus was supporting AWACS surveillance aircraft assigned to monitor the no-fly zone.

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates postponed his trip to Russia by a day, to remain in Washington and monitor the situation in Libya, the Associated Press reports.
    Moscow helped open the door for action by not blocking the U.N. Security Council resolution — a move that defense officials said reflected the broader spirit of cooperation between the nations.

  • The summit in Paris for support of the Libyan people adopted an official declaration authorizing the "taking of all necessary measures to protect civilians against attacks." It also said the actions of the Libyan regime forces may "amount to crimes against humanity."
    "This situation is intolerable," the communiqué reads. You can see the full declaration here.

  • Images and video of a downed fighter jet in Benghazi riveted observers worldwide on Saturday. The above photos from Getty Images show the fiery descent of the plane and an object, thought to be the pilot, ejecting from the plane and appearing to parachute to the ground. The Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov was in Benghazi and describes the scene this way:
    On Saturday morning, as the artillery cannonade approached Benghazi, Col. Gadhafi's fighter jets streaked in the skies above. Then, the rebels unleashed their anti-aircraft guns and one of the jets erupted in a flash of fire, hurtling downwards and setting off a thick plume of smoke.
    On the way to the downing site, a reporter encountered panicked rebels directing traffic away and warning about incoming gunfire. Further down the road, about one mile from Ouzo hotel in the upscale neighborhood of Tabalino, rebel gunmen with light arms crouched behind a wall.
    Col. Gadhafi's forces, they said, were already in the university campus some 800 meters down the road. "They have a tank and pickup trucks," one of the revolutionaries shouted. Then, suddenly, incoming bullets started crackling in the air, followed by loud thumps of shell explosions. "Run away, run away," the fighters yelled as they sought cover behind buildings.
    According to witnesses and Mr. Gherriani, some of Col. Gadhafi's forces—dressed in civilian clothes and riding civilian cars—infiltrated Benghazi neighborhoods overnight, taking up positions in the university campus and on rooftops.

  • The U.S. is preparing to launch a missile attack on Libyan air defenses, the Associated Press reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
    The plan, according to the AP's sources, is to help protect the French and others by taking out Libyan air defenses. An attack against those defenses with Navy sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles was planned for later Saturday, one official said.

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to reporters Saturday in Paris after the Libya summit, said there will be “extensive aerial operations coming very soon.”
    He emphasized that United Nations parameters for military action didn’t include ground operations.
    He said the ceasefire announced by Tripoli “was a lie, an obvious lie,” forcing leaders’ hands to move to military action. He said that such military campaigns were complicated, with the possibility of collateral damage and allied casualties, but also suggested the forces of Col. Gadhafi wouldn’t last long once strikes began.
    “Given any kind of equality of force, given any kind of ability by the population to act, he simply will not last very long,” Mr. Harper said. “I think that is the basis on which we’re moving forward.”

  • Above, Aisha Gadhafi, the daughter of Moammar Gadhafi, waves a green flag during a pro-government rally in Bab Azizia Saturday. (Photo by Getty Images)
    Col. Gadhafi is set to speak soon, and the crowd awaiting him is growing excited. The headquarters are fortified by hundreds of soldiers and armed civilians, and several cordons of security.
    Inside the courtyard in front of his headquarters, you can see Col. Gadhafi's tent, where he often holds court.

  • Many in the crowd at Col. Gadhafi's headquarters are carrying placards -- some in Arabic, some in English. One read "Libya united and out of your reach." While a woman accompanied by her daughter carried a sign saying "No to the intervention in Libya."
    Children around the building were chanting: "Obama wants a beating from the colonel."
    Abdl Abdel-Munim Saleh, 35, came to the pro-regime demonstration with his three children and wife. When asked about the possibility of military intervention and told that French fighter jets were patrolling Libyan airspace, he said "I will face them with my bare chest."

  • Thousands of people in the Libyan capital flocked on Saturday to Col. Gadhafi's headquarters in a popular show of support. The people were carrying green Libyan flags -- the symbol of the regime -- and many women draped themselves in green headscarves and shawls. Some children had baseball caps with Col. Gadhafi's portrait on the front.
    The headquarters, called Bab Aziziya, was the site of a 1986 attack by the U.S. in response to an earlier bombing of a Berlin disco by the Libyan government. The building still has shrapnel marks from the bombardment to serve as a reminder that Libya defied the U.S. back then, and in a courtyard is a statue of a Libyan fist crushing a U.S. fighter plane. People are now standing on that statue, waiting for Col. Gadhafi to speak.

  • The U.S. will "not lead" the international response but will offer "unique capabilities" to support the coalition effort, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. For more from Journal reporter Keith Johnson in Paris, read here.
    Ms. Clinton made it clear that the U.S. has no intention of sending ground troops into Libya, the Associated Press reports. But she did say "we have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gadhafi will commit unspeakable atrocities."

  • Gadhafi's forces penetrated deep into Benghazi and heavily shelled the rebel capital's residential neighborhoods Saturday, the Journal's Yarslav Trofimov reports. However by 4 p.m. local time, the shelling stopped as foreign fighter jets patrolled the sky above.
    Rebel fighters said they have been given orders to cease fire, and said they thought Col. Gadhafi's forces have withdrawn to Benghazi's outskirts.
    "We shall not retreat, we shall not retreat, we shall not retreat," rebel radio broadcast. "It will be victory or death."
    For more from Benghazi, read the full report here.

    • 1:06 pm
    • France Fires on Libya
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    A French official says a French fighter jet has fired on a Libyan military vehicle, in a first reported strike in the international campaign to enforce a no-fly zone, the Associated Press reports. The target was confirmed as a military vehicle, France said, but it was not clear what kind.

    • 1:02 pm
    • Obama Comments
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    Barack Obama said the U.S. and its partners are "prepared to act" in Libya, the Associated Press reported.
    "Our consensus was strong, and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against  civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency," he said. The president is in Brazil on the first day of a Latin American tour.

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