UPDATE: 16:15 ET March 19
AP has confirmed that the U.S. military has launched a missile attack against Libya’s air defenses.
A senior U.S. military official says the strike was aimed at sites along the Libyan coast. The missiles were launched from U.S. Navy vessels in the Mediterranean.
The official says the assault would unfold in stages and strike at air defense installations around Tripoli, the capital, and a coastal area south of Benghazi. That’s the rebel stronghold under attack by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
Pentagon briefing underway at the moment confirming that more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been launched against targets in Libya by the US and allies.
UPDATE: 15:50 March 19
The web site of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad has just reported the following (Translated from Dutch):
“The U.S. has for the first time launched missiles into Libya. It is not clear what the targets are.”
NBC also has a headline to that effect.
In “Libya: Allies Prepare for Military Action,” we described how the coalition that has “signed up” to enforce U.N. Resolution 1973—particularly the United Kingdom and France—was preparing to enforce that resolution.
A few hours ago, French military sources announced that French military aircraft had flown over Libyan territory on reconnaissance missions.
Then, a couple of hours ago, France officially confirmed that its military are engaged around and over Libya.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris, “Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi against the population of Benghazi…As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town…As of now, our aircraft are prepared to intervene against tanks.”
There are now confirmed reports that a “French plane has fired the first shots in Libya as enforcement of the UN-mandated no-fly zone begins. The target was a military vehicle, the French defence ministry said.”
The BBC reports. “The French plane fired the first shot in Libya at 1645 GMT and destroyed its target, according to a military spokesman.”
Around 20 French aircraft were involved in Saturday’s operation, a defence ministry official told the Reuters news agency.
Other air forces and navies are expected to join the French.
A naval blockade is also being put in place, said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. France is sending its Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier to the Libyan coast, a military spokesman said.
Finally, “in other developments:”
• Italy has offered the use of seven of its military bases which already house US, Nato and Italian forces
• Canada says its fighter jets have now reached the region but will need two days to prepare for any missions
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Image: French Rafale aircraft
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.