Allies launch Libya force as Gadhafi hits rebels
Saturday, March 19, 2011; 4:13 PM
BENGHAZI, Libya -- French fighter jets fired the first shots at Moammar Gadhafi's troops 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.
In the hours before the no-fly zone over Libya went into effect, Gadhafi sent warplanes, tanks and troops into Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the rebellion that began Feb. 15. Then the government attacks appeared to go silent.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an emergency summit in Paris that French jets were already targeting Gadhafi's forces. The 22 participants in Saturday's summit agreed to do everything necessary to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday demanding a cease-fire, Sarkozy said.
"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," President Barack Obama said in Brasilia, Brazil, on the first day of a three-country Latin American tour.
The rebels, who have seen their advances into western Libya turn into a series of defeats, said they had hoped for more, sooner from the international community, after a day when crashing shells shook the buildings of Benghazi and Gadhafi's tanks rumbled through the university campus.
"People are disappointed, they haven't seen any action yet. The leadership understands some of the difficulties with procedures but when it comes to procedures versus human lives the choice is clear," said Essam Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition. "People on the streets are saying where are the international forces? Is the international community waiting for the same crimes to be perpetrated on Benghazi has have been done by Gadhafi in the other cities?"
A doctor said 27 bodies had reached hospitals by midday. As night fell, though, the streets grew quiet.
Libyan state television showed Gadhafi supporters converging on the international airport and a military garrison in Tripoli, and the airport in Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, in an apparent attempt to deter bombing.
In an open letter, Gadhafi warned: "You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country."
In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Gadhafi's government had lost all legitimacy and lied about the cease-fire.
"We have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gadhafi will commit unspeakable atrocities," she said.
Saturday's emergency meeting involved 22 leaders and top officials, including Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the foreign ministers of Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. It was the largest international military action since the beginning of the Iraq war, launched almost exactly eight years ago.