Sunday, March 20, 2011

ODYSSEY DAWN: NATO forces begin attacks on Libya

UPDATED (March 20, 2011 -- 8:00 AM Manila Time) -- In a move done almost in the nick of time, NATO Coalition Forces finally attacked Libyan air defenses of Saturday to enforce a No-Fly Zone resolution established by the United Nations Security Council on Friday. NATO members France, United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and the United States gathered its forces in an operation dubbed as Odyssey Dawn and launched aircraft and missile attacks against Libyan air defenses in the cities of Tripoli and Misrata. At least 20 aircraft from UK and France are involved in the operation, while the US provided ship support through the use of 2 destroyers, 2 amphibious assault ships, a command-and-control ship and a submarine. Canada provided surveillance for the operation while Italy allowed its air bases in Sicily to be the forward base of the operation.

The strikes are meant to clear the area for ground troops from NATO and Arab League members to enter the country and create a buffer zone between forces of the Libyan opposition and Col. Muammar Gadhafi's military. On Thursday, Gadhafi forces came at around 160 miles from the rebel stronghold city of Benghazi after a week of offensives which greatly crushed the rebel's numbers and morale. France, fearing that civilians in Benghazi will be the target of Gadhafi's wrath, urged the UN Security Council to finally vote on a much anticipated No-Fly Zone resolution over Libya. 10 UNSC members voted in favor of the resolution while Russia, China, India, Brazil and Germany chose to abstain. The UNSC resolution orders all its members to provide "all necessary means" to protect the citizens of Libya against Col. Gadhafi's forces.

THE TWO FACES OF THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR. On the left, Libyan opposition supporters celebrate in Benghazi on Friday after the declaration of a No-Fly Zone. On the right, Gadhafi loyalists in a rally in Tripoli on Thursday. (AP)

Libyans in Benghazi celebrated on Friday night with fireworks and street parties upon hearing news of the UN resolution. Col. Gadhafi meanwhile remains defiant in the face of imminent backlash from Western coalition forces, stating that in a radio message that "Libyans will fight back against undeserved naked agression", and called on "all people of the Islamic nations and Africa, and Latin America and Asia, stand with the Libyan people in its fight against this aggression". Gadhafi has declared a ceasefire Friday night in response to the UN resolution by eyewitnesses on the ground say that his forces continued to advance on Saturday, pommeling Benghazi with mortar fire.

ARMED AND READY. French Rafale fighter jets prep up in Sicily, Italy for Operation Odyssey Dawn (left) while an opposition jet fighter is shot down and crashes in Benghazi (right)/Courtesy: AP

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on Gadhafi's defiance in the face of world condemnation. "The Gadhafi regime has lost all of its legitimacy," she stated from Paris after a meeting between leaders of the coalition forces. The United States is cautious about its participation in Odyssey Dawn as it tries to distance itself from getting deeply involved in another Muslim country just like it did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence, it allowed for more participation from UK, France and other NATO members and has included at least two Arab League members to participate to give the operation a distinct Arabic signature. Odyssey Dawn came almost late as Libyans were anticipating a Western intervention earlier in its civil war against Gadhafi forces.

Sources: The Associated Press and CNN.

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