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Qaddafi Defiant As U.S., European Air Strikes Hit Libya

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 20.03.2011 15:31

A top U.S. military commander has said the initial phase of an international operation to impose a no-fly zone over Libya "has been successful" and that the Libyan government's ground offensive against the eastern city of Benghazi had been stopped.

Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the remarks after U.S. and European air strikes on March 19 began to target the air defenses and ground troops of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

Mullen warned the outcome in Libya was "very uncertain" and that Qaddafi could cling to power.

U.S. and British warships and submarines in the Mediterranean reportedly launched more than 100 Tomahawk missiles overnight in an attempt to destroy Gaddafi's air defenses in the capital, Tripoli, and the city of Misurata.

Antiaircraft fire could be heard in Tripoli overnight, although its source was unknown.

Mullen told NBC's "Meet The Press" that U.S. and allied forces had effectively established a "no-fly" zone over Libya. Mullen said air strikes on March 19 "took out" Libya's air defenses and that a government troop advance on the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi had been halted.

Asked on CNN's "State of the Union" if the current conflict in Libya could end with a stalemate that left Qaddafi in Libya, Mullen responded that "that's a possibility."

U.S. Commander James Stockman of the U.S. Africa Command said the March 19 missile and military aircraft attacks on Libya hit 20 of their 22 targets.

CBS News also reported that U.S. B-2 stealth bombers had dropped 40 bombs on a Libyan airfield, although the Pentagon did not confirm that information.

'Odyssey Dawn'

The British and U.S. strikes came after French warplanes fired the first shots on March 19, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The campaign, called "Odyssey Dawn," currently involves forces and equipment from the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, and Denmark. It is the biggest Western military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It followed a decision on March 19 in Paris by Western and Arab leaders to enforce a UN no-fly zone over Libya in order to prevent Gaddafi from carrying out attacks on civilians and opposition forces.

Libyan state television said nearly 50 people had been killed and 150 wounded since the start of the U.S. and European operation. It broadcast footage that appeared to show air strike victims being treated in a hospital, although the veracity of the footage could not be confirmed.

In an audio message broadcast on state TV, the 68-year-old Qaddafi remained defiant, saying he was prepared to defeat the Western forces in what he said would be a "long, glorious war."

"You are unjust, you are the aggressors, you are beasts, you are criminals. Your countries are against you. There are protests everywhere in Europe, in America against the steps you're taking against the innocent Libyan people," Qaddafi said. "The people are with us, even your people are with us. All the people on Earth are against you. You will fail like how Hitler failed, Napoleon failed, Mussolini failed. All tyrants fall under the feet of the people. This is the era of the people and the great [Qaddafi] revolution."

International Caution

China and Russia -- which both abstained from the March 17 UN vote on intervention -- have expressed concern about "Odyssey Dawn," warning it could lead to greater civilian casualties.

Moscow and Beijing said on March 20 said they "regret" the armed international intervention in Libya and were calling for a cease-fire as soon as possible.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Moscow now believes that the Security Council resolution was "adopted in haste."

China's Foreign Ministry, in a separate statement, said the Chinese government "disagrees with the use of force in international relations."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates postponed a trip to Russia to "monitor developments in Libya." Gates was scheduled to depart on March 19 for a three-day visit to St. Petersburg and Moscow, but Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that the trip had been delayed for at least 24 hours.

The British government said on March 20 that it was taking "every precaution" to avoid killing civilians.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking at the outset of the international military action, defended the campaign as a "limited military action" aimed at protecting the Libyan people.

The U.S. says it is currently in charge of the military operations, but said it will switch to a "coalition command" in the coming days.

France and Britain took a leading role in pushing for international intervention in Libya, which comes after more than a month of unrest in the repressive North African nation. Supporters of the operation say they hope it will weaken Qaddafi and allow the rebel opposition to force him out of power.

based on agency and media reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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