UPDATE: 12:20 ET
France has 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.”
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UPDATE: 11:11 ET, March 19, 2011
The BBC reports, “French military jets over Libya”:
French military jets are preventing forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi from attacking the rebel-held city of Benghazi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says.
It is believed to be the first act of intervention since the UN voted on Thursday for a no-fly zone over Libya.
French aircraft have also flown over “all Libyan territory” on reconnaissance missions, French military sources said earlier.
The French Rafale jets took off from their base at Saint-Dizier in eastern France, a source told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
“French reconnaissance jets are clearly scoping out targets in Libya. I would assume there have been special forces on the ground as well, assessing potential targets,” says BBC Defense correspondent, Caroline Wyatt.
The planes encountered no problems during the first few hours of their mission, the source said, and the flights would continue for the next several hours.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists at the summit in Paris that he believed British, French and Canadian aircraft would launch the first airstrikes, the BBC’s Carole Walker in Paris reports.
Asked if those strikes would take place later on Saturday, Mr Rutte said that was a possibility…
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As Moammar Gaddafi fragrantly violates the terms of the UN Security Council resolution and his own “cease-fire” declaration by attacking the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi, those countries taking part in the coalition must now decide exactly what military actions will be taken, when and who will lead the mission—among other questions.
And it won’t be a moment too soon as Libyan Government troops “in tanks and trucks entered Benghazi from the west, in the university area, and began to shell the city, including civilian areas. Intense fighting broke out in some enclaves. The city of 1 million quickly became a ghost town, with residents fleeing or seeking cover in barricaded neighborhoods,” according to the Washington Post.
Also according to the Post,
U.S. ships in the Mediterranean were preparing to bombard Libya’s air defenses and runways to clear the way for European and Arab forces to establish a no-fly zone throughout the country, according to U.S. and European officials. Fighter aircraft from France, Britain and the United Arab Emirates converged on bases in and around Italy to begin operations over Libya under the command and control of the United States at its naval base in Naples.
More specifically, Britain has already started preparations to deploy Tornados and Typhoon aircraft, as well as air-to-air refueling and surveillance aircraft.
But, according to the BBC, “It is not yet clear who the commander of the operation will be, where it will be headquartered and what [NATO] assets might be used.”
The fact that the British Prime Minister is going to France on Saturday could be an indication that, having taken the diplomatic lead on recognising the rebels, France is also keen to take a military lead.
The British Prime Minister told Parliament on Friday that Britain was getting ready to move the designated aircraft “in the coming hours” to airbases from where they could start to take the necessary action.
The BBC report provides details on the aircraft and equipments to be used, types of missions they may be engaged in, possible locations from where the missions would be launched and potential targets.
Finally, the article discusses how the Libyan crisis “could call more of the strategic defence and security review’s conclusions into question, and perhaps even prompt a fresh look at the UK’s military assets” and how “a government wishing to take a leading role on the world stage can afford to lose yet more military capability and personnel at a time when world events are proving more unpredictable than ever.”
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Image: Courtesy BBC
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.