French Aircraft Destroy Tanks; Rebels Say Misrata Under Attack - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

French Aircraft Destroy Tanks; Rebels Say Misrata Under Attack

UPDATE>>> Libya's opposition says troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are bombarding the rebel-held city of Misrata, the only city in western Libya not under Gadhafi's control.

The artillery and tank fire comes despite a barrage of missiles and air strikes from U.S. and European forces aimed at taking out Gadhafi's air defenses and other military targets.

French aircraft devastated a Libyan tank force 12 miles south of Benghazi, leaving at least seven smoldering in a field hours later alongside two charred personnel carriers and a dozen other burned-out vehicles.

U.S. and British ships have also fired more than 100 cruise missiles at Libyan radar systems, communications centers and missile sites.

Libya claims there have been civilian casualties, and that's prompted the head of the Arab League to say the strikes have gone beyond enforcing a no-fly zone, which the league had supported.

But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, says he hasn't seen any reports of civilian casualties. He does say Gadhafi has resorted to using human shields in an attempt to
prevent further attacks.

A senior U.S. military official says the initial attacks have been highly successful, while not fully eliminating the threat posed by Libyan air defenses.

 UPDATE>>> Washington (CNN) -- A no-fly zone in Libya is "effectively in place," U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Sunday.

So far, air attacks by coalition forces have taken out most of Libya's air defense systems and some airfields, Mullen said in interviews on CNN's "State of the Union" program and other networks.

In addition, Libyan ground forces in the vicinity of Benghazi were hit in an effort to prevent attacks on the rebel stronghold, according to Mullen.

"I would say the no-fly zone is effectively in place," Mullen told CNN.

The strategy now is to cut off logistical support for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces, which are "pretty spread out" from Tripoli to Benghazi, Mullen said.

He acknowledged on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the military mission could be completed with Gadhafi still in power. However, Mullen made clear that the U.S. role would be limited, adding: "We're not going to put any boots on the ground. This isn't about occupation in any shape or form."

As part of the no-fly zone, combat aircraft from the United States and its allies will be patrolling over Benghazi at all times, Mullen told CNN. Coalition forces also are looking to jam communications of Gadhafi's forces in what Mullen called the "first phase of a multi-faceted" operation, he said.

"While we're leading it now, we're looking to hand off that leadership in the next few days," Mullen said on NBC. On the same show, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Britain, France and Arab nations would assume control of the mission.

Mullen said he expected Arab countries that supported the mission to begin contributing military help. He told "FOX News Sunday" that Qatar is sending aircraft to take part.

The specific goals of what Mullen called a "limited" military mission are to create the no-fly zone, protect civilians and allow humanitarian support to proceed in Libya, he said on CNN.

"We would like to see him withdraw his forces across the country back into garrison" and stop attacking his people, Mullen said of Gadhafi. He also called for the Libyan government and military to allow humanitarian operations to help citizens.

When told that Gadhafi was claiming women and children had been killed in the coalition air strikes, Mullen told CNN that the targets were selected carefully, adding: "I've seen no reports of significant civilian casualties." On other networks, he said he was unaware of any civilian casualties so far.

UPDATE>>> Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi promised "a long-drawn war" Sunday after an international coalition hammered the nation's air defense as part of an operation to enforce a no-fly zone.

Gadhafi said the strikes were a confrontation between the Libyan people and "the new Nazis."

"You have proven to the world that you are not civilized, that you are terrorists -- animals attacking a safe nation that did nothing against you," Gadhafi said in a televised speech.

Throughout the address, an image of a golden fist crushing a model plane that said "USA" filled the screen.

At the same time Gadhafi spoke, his regime was shelling the city of Misrata on Sunday morning using tanks, artillery and cannons, a witness said.

"They are destroying the city," said the witness, who is not being identified for safety reasons. He said rebels were fighting back.

Sounds of heavy gunfire could be heard during a telephone conversation with the man. There was no immediate word on casualties.

International military coalition targeted air defense positions near the capital for a second day Sunday.

Some Libyans welcomed the American, French and British military forces.

Others remained fearful of Gadhafi.

Libyans are "afraid to come out because when they do, he attacked them very, very severely," a woman in Tripoli said Sunday. "This is putting terror in all neighborhoods."

The multinational military forces launched the attacks Saturday, convinced that Gadhafi was not adhering to a cease-fire mandated by the United Nations.

American and British ships and submarines fired more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles and hit about 20 Libyan defense targets in western portions of the country, U.S. Vice Adm. William Gortney said at a Pentagon briefing.

Nineteen U.S. warplanes, including stealth bombers and fighter jets, conducted strike operations in Libya on Sunday morning, officials said.

Tomahawk cruise missiles are unmanned and fly close to the ground, steering around natural and man-made obstacles to hit a target programmed into them before launch.

A senior U.S. military official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the cruise missiles landed near the city of Misrata and the capital, Tripoli.

Scores of missiles were fired in the pre-dawn darkness, and the exact results of the mission were not immediately clear. The United States is expected to conduct a damage assessment of the sites.

The salvo, in an operation dubbed "Odyssey Dawn," was meant "to deny the Libyan regime from using force against its own people," Gortney said.

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the Royal Air Force deployed Tornado GR4 fast jets, which flew 3,000 miles from the United Kingdom and back -- making the venture the longest-range bombing mission conducted by the force since the Falklands conflict in 1982.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the international mission "is necessary, it is legal, and it is right."

"I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people," Cameron said late Saturday night.

But Gadhafi remained defiant, saying Libya will fight back against undeserved "naked aggression."

In a statement broadcast on state TV, his military said the strikes killed 48 people -- "mostly women, children and religious clerics."

"The majority of these attacks were on public areas, hospitals and schools. They frightened the children and women near those areas that were subject to this aggression," the military said.

CNN could not immediately confirm the claim.

The first international strike against Gadhafi's military took place Saturday when French fighter jets fired at a military vehicle.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called the regime's violence against civilians "murderous madness."

But China's foreign ministry said Sunday it did not agree with the use of force in international relations. And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also denounced the military intervention.

"They (the United States) want to appropriate the oil in Libya; they don't care about anyone's life in that region," Chavez said.

Gadhafi vowed to open weapons depots and said the U.N. charter provides the nation the right to defend itself in a "war zone." He has also issued messages to international powers and said Libyans are ready to die for him.

Some residents said they could receive weapons to fight back.

"We received a phone call around 3 a.m. that everyone should head out in the streets," a woman in Tripoli said. "Normal civilians are being able to have machine guns and take anti-aircraft machine guns ... to fire back at the airplanes."

In Misrata, a witness said Gadhafi's forces are targeting fuel and power stations to make citizens believe the damage is being done by coalition forces. The witness, who was not identified for security reasons, said people celebrated allied airstrikes on loyalist positions in the city.

CNN could not verify the account.

In the city of Benghazi -- a stronghold for rebels that was attacked by Gadhafi forces -- fighter jets flew overhead Sunday. It was not immediately clear whom the jets belonged to.

U.S. President Barack Obama is planning for the U.S. portion of the military action in Libya to only last for a few days.

"After that we'll take more of a supporting role," said a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak about sensitive military matters.

Obama authorized U.S. military force on what happened to be the eighth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.

In the next few days, U.S. military officials expect to hand over control to a coalition commander. Canada and Italy are also part of the coalition.

Violence has raged in Libya following protests calling for democracy and demanding an end to Gadhafi's almost 42-year-long rule. The protests have been met by force from the Gadhafi regime, and some members of his military defected to the opposition.

Another witness in Tripoli said she's terrified about how Gadhafi might respond to the airstrikes.

"We're scared. We're not sure what will happen next," she said. "To be honest, I'm scared for my life."

UPDATE>>> Libyan state TV is quoting the armed forces command as saying 48 people have been killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault by U.S. and European forces. The report can't be independently confirmed.

The U.S. and European nations have begun pounding Moammar Gadhafi's forces and air defenses with cruise missiles and airstrikes in the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat. Libyan TV says most of the casualties are children.

UPDATE>>> Moammar Gadhafi is vowing Libya will defend itself from what he calls "crusader aggression," as U.S.-led international forces begin an attack in support of the rebel uprising against him.

The Libyan leader says the involvement of international forces will subject the Mediterranean and North African region to danger and put civilians at risk.

He also warns that weapons depots are being opened to arm the Libyan people in defense. Hours earlier, the U.S. fired more than 100 cruise missiles at his air defenses.

Gadhafi spoke around midnight Saturday in a phone call to Libyan state TV. He said the international action against his forces was unjustified, calling it "simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war."

France fires on Libyan military vehicle

A French official says a French fighter jet has fired on a Libyan military vehicle, in a first reported strike in the international campaign to enforce a no-fly zone. French Defense Ministry spokesman Thierry Burkhard says the strike was reported around 1645 GMT Saturday. Burkhard says the target was confirmed as a military vehicle, but it was not clear what kind.

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