Allies launch air attack against Libya
BENGHAZI, Libya (AP)
The U.S. fired more than 100 cruise missiles from the sea while French fighter jets targeted Moammar Gadhafi's forces from the air on Saturday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat.
The U.S. military said 20 sites were hit as the missile strikes targeted air defense installations on or near the Mediterranean coastline, many in the western half of the country that is Gadhafi's stronghold. The French said they were focusing on the rebel-held east.
President Barack Obama said military action was not his first choice.
"This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought," Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. "We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy."
Thousands of regime supporters, meanwhile, packed into the sprawling Bab al-Aziziya military camp in Tripoli where Gadhafi lives to protect against attacks.
The strikes, which were aimed at enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, were a sharp escalation in the international effort to stop Gadhafi after weeks of pleading by the rebels who have seen early gains reversed as the regime unleashed the full force of its superior air power and weaponry.
Libyan regime official Mohammed al-Zwei claimed a large number of civilians were injured when several civilian and military sites in the capital, Tripoli, and the nearby city of Misrata were hit.
"This barbaric aggression against the Libyan people comes after we had announced a cease-fire against the armed militias which are part of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb," he said. The targets could not be independently verified.
Gadhafi also acted quickly in the run-up to the strikes, sending warplanes, tanks and troops into the eastern city of Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the rebellion that began Feb. 15. Then the government attacks appeared to go silent.
The international strikes came hours after an emergency summit in Paris during which the 22 leaders and top officials, including Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, agreed to do everything necessary to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday calling for the no-fly zone and demanding a cease-fire, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.