By MARTHA RADDATZ, DEVIN DWYER and LUIS MARTINEZ
March 20, 2011
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound was hit by a missile strike late today,as a barrage of airstrikes by U.S. and European militaries destroyed Libyan defenses, rocked the capitol of Tripoli and buoyed the spirits of the opposition.
'The strike, however, was not carried out by U.S. forces, an official said. Vice Admiral William Gortney said earlier today that the United States was "not targeting Gadhafi."
According to various reports, Gadhafi's compound was badly damaged, but it was not immediately known how many people were injured or killed.
A United Nations-backed no-fly zone enforced by the U.S. British and French aircraft is being enforced from Tripoli to Benghazi and the top third of the country. Spain, Belgium, Denmark, and Qatar have also joined the coalition.
"It's had a pretty significant effect very early on," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said today of Operation Odyssey Dawn on ABC News' "This Week."
"The no-fly zone has essentially started to have its effects. We are flying over Benghazi right now. He hasn't had any planes in the air the last two days," Mullen said of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Gortney said today that the United States will will soon hand over command to a coalition partner, a point reiterated by several U.S. officials.
Gortney did not rule out that the United States will continue to fly patrols as part of the no-fly zone after this initial phase, but for now the United States will provide tanker refuelers, ISR and electronic jammers to the coalition no-fly zone.
"We judge these strikes to have been very effective in significantly degrading the regime's air defense capability," Gortney said of the 124 Tomahawks that have been dropped. "There has been no new air activity by the regime and we have detected no radar emissions from the air defense sites targeted and there has been a significant decrease in the air use of all Libyan air surveillance radars which is most of those limited to areas around Tripoli and Sirte."
American F-16s and AV-8 Harrier jets patrolled overhead, dropping bombs on pro-Gadhafi forces who were still continuing their offensive on rebel strongholds in eastern Libya, a Pentagon official said. About 10 miles south of Benghazi, 15 U.S. aircraft along with French and British fighters struck at Libyan mechanized forces advancing on Benghazi. Gortney said the strikes had killed dozens of Libyan troops.
Meanwhile, in Tripoli, anti-aircraft fire could be seen lighting up the night sky.
"Today there is hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel," opposition spokesman Jalal ElGallal told ABC News in Tobruk. "[With this intervention the fight is] evening up a little bit, so obviously the morale must be sky-high."
A spokesman for Gadhafi's government said all Libyan armed forces units have been told to follow a ceasefire. The ceasefire was being ordered after taking into account the civilian deaths, and the destruction of civilian and military buildings, the Libyan government spokesman told reporters. And all Libyans have been urged to participate in a peaceful march from Tripoli to Benghazi.
But U.S. officials are skeptical of the government's claims.
"We will watch his actions, not his words," a senior White House official said.
The opening salvo of the international operation, which military officials have described as a "multi-phase" operation to protect Libyan civilians, drew cheers from rebels across eastern Libya and a defiant warning from Gadhafi, who said he is prepared for a "long war."
"There is a big misunderstanding," Gadhafi's son, Saif, said on "This Week." "The whole country is united against the armed militia and the terrorists. Simply, the Americans and the other Western countries, you are supporting the terrorists and the armed militia. That's it."
The U.N. Security Council authorized an international coalition of 22 countries, including several Arab states, to use "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Gadhafi and prevent a humanitarian crisis inside the country.
President Obama has stressed that military action in Libya will be "limited" to protecting the Libyan people, and administration officials say U.S. forces will only play an active, leading role in operations for "days, not weeks."
"We've seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens," Obama said in a speech in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. "From the beginning, we have made clear that the change they seek must be driven by their own people."
But the international effort has also appeared aimed at directly hastening Gadhafi's fall from power, creating a window for Libyan opposition forces to go back on the offensive.
"We want the Libyan people to be able to express their will, I've said … and we consider that it means that Gadhafi has to go," French ambassador to the U.N. Gerard Araud said on "This Week."
It's unclear what would happen if they don't immediately succeed and Gadhafi clings to power.
(ABC NEWS.COM) By DEVIN DWYER and LUIS MARTINEZ
More than 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck over 20 targets inside Libya today in the opening phase of an international military operation the Pentagon said was aimed at stopping attacks led by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and enforcing a U.N.-backed no-fly zone.
President Obama, speaking from Brazil shortly after he authorized the missile attacks, said they were part of a "limited military action" to protect the Libyan people.
"I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it's not a choice I make lightly," Obama said. "But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy."
The first air strikes, in what is being called Operation Odyssey Dawn, were launched from a mix of U.S. surface ships and one British submarine in the Mediterranean Sea at 2 p.m. ET, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
They targeted Libyan air defense missile sites, early warning radar and key communications facilities around Tripoli, Misratah, and Surt, but no areas east of that or near Benghazi. Because of darkness over Libya, Gortney said it was too early to determine the strikes' effectiveness.
Gortney said no U.S. troops were on the ground in Libya and that no U.S. aircraft participated in the initial attacks.
Libyan television reported that 48 people were killed and more than 150 wounded in the barrage, but there was no independent confirmation of the numbers.
Earlier today, as pro-Gadhafi forces battled towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 20 French warplanes flew over the region in a show of force. And one jet fired on and destroyed an unidentified Libyan military vehicle, French Defense officials said.
At one point a fighter jet resembling a Libyan MiG 27 was shot down over the city, according to news reports from inside Libya.
Meanwhile, world leaders met in Paris to discuss the nature and scope of the international military intervention to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians.
"We have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gadhafi would commit unspeakable atrocities," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters following the meeting in Paris. "Further delay will only put more civilians at risk. So let me be very clear on the position of the United States: We will support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce" the U.N. resolution.
But Pentagon officials cautioned that despite the initial military actions, an enforced no-fly zone over Libya was not yet in effect and will take time to establish.
"At this point we are creating the conditions to be able to set up a no fly zone, and once we have established and confirmed that the conditions are right then we will move forward into one of the next phases of the campaign," Gortney told reporters.
No U.S. aircraft will be involved in air strikes over Libya tonight, he said. "Our mission right now is to shape the battle space in such a way that our partners may take the lead in…execution."
As the campaign evolves, officials said, U.S. support aircraft would provide airborne surveillance, refueling and radar-jamming capabilities, and several F-16s may participate in patrols over no-fly zones above Tripoli and Benghazi.
In an audio statement broadcast on Libyan state TV, Gadhafi called the attacks a "crusade" against the Libyan people and called on Arab countries and African allies to come to his government's aid.
"We ask others to stand by us," he said, according to a translation of his remarks heard on Al Jazeera. "We must now open the weapons depot and arms to all Libyans."
Gadhafi warned the international coalition Friday not to interfere in Libyan affairs, calling the U.N. resolution "invalid" and appealing directly to world leaders, including President Obama, in a letter.
"Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans," he said in the letter. "If you had found them taking over American cities with armed force, tell me what you would do."
ABC NEWS coverage continues on Channel 7 with "Good Morning America," "This Week With Christiane Amanpour," and "World News With David Muir" and "World News With Diane Sawyer."
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