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Defiant Gaddafi warns long wars after US, allies strike

The US and European forces today unleashed over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libyan military targets in Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast as their war planes pounded forces of Muammar Gaddafi who vowed to retaliate against western "aggression" and the "war on Islam". Libya ready for long glorious battle: Gaddafi

world Updated: Mar 20, 2011 21:34 IST

The US and European forces today unleashed over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Libyan military targets in Tripoli and along the Mediterranean coast as their war planes pounded forces of Muammar Gaddafi who vowed to retaliate against western "aggression" and the "war on Islam".

At least 112 Tomahawk missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines in Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD), targeting some 20 Libyan air and missile defence targets in Tripoli and western city of Misurata, US Navy Vice Admiral William Gortney said at a Pentagon briefing in Washington.

India and Russia came out against the strikes. India said it regrets the air strikes that are taking place and wanted measures to be taken to mitigate and not exacerbate the already difficult situation for the Libyan people.

Moscow pushed for an end to "indiscriminate use of force" by the US-led forces and said the intervention in Libya has been "adopted (by the UNSC) in haste".

French jets fired the first shots in OOD, the biggest international military intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles in eastern Libya, Al-Jazeera reported.

Libyan state television said 48 civilians have been killed and 150 wounded as a result of this "aggression". It claimed most of the casualties were children but gave no details. There was no independent confirmation about the death toll.

BBC quoted UK Finance Minister George Osborne as saying that such claims should be treated with caution as the military was striving to avoid civilian casualties.

Heavy firing and explosion were heard in several parts of the Libyan capital.

Al-Jazeera quoted an unnamed US military officials as saying that "Gaddafi's air defence systems have been severely disabled. It's too soon to predict what he and his ground forces may do in response to today's strikes".

Despite the reverses, a defiant Gaddafi slammed the West for the "aggression", saying "We will not leave our land and liberate it."

Warning that it will be a "long war", he said: "We will fight for every square in our land".

"We will die as martyrs," he said in his roughly 15-minute address, the second since the air raids began on Saturday after the UN Security Council gave its nod for 'no fly' zone over Libya to halt Gaddafi's air powers against rebels.

The Council move had come after international outrage over Gaddafi's forces pounding rebel-held positions including Benghazi, Misurata, Tobruk and Ajdabiya.

Claiming that the Libyan "people are behind him and ready for all-out war", Gaddafi threatened to throw open defence supplies to arm civilians to defend the country.

"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honour of Libya," 68-year-old Gaddafi said in his audio message broadcast.

He drew parallel to other US-led wars, including Vietnam, saying the air attacks by French, US and British forces amounted to a "war on Islam", Al Jazeera said.

US President Barack Obama said it had not been his first choice to authorise US participation in military strikes against the Gaddafi regime.

"Today I authorised the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun," Obama said from Brazil, where he has just begun a five-day visit through Latin America.

"This is not an outcome the US or any of our partners sought," Obama said.

US military forces are on the leading edge of the coalition operation, taking out Libya's integrated air and missile defence system.

"The ordnance is aimed at radars and anti-aircraft sites around the capital of Tripoli and other facilities along the Mediterranean coast," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Gaddafi regime still has some "surface to air capabilities", but the strikes so far have been very successful.

"He (Gadafi) still has some surface-to-air capability, where he could attack an aircraft, including one of ours," Mullen was quoted as saying by the ABC news today.

"We haven't seen large-scale indications of that after the action yesterday. He clearly has the ability to continue to attack his own people, and then we're very focused on that, and trying to ensure that his military forces don't do that," he said.

Benghazi, he said, however, is still not safe at this particular point in time.

The BBC said coalition military officials plan to monitor the activities of Libyan ground forces near key populated areas including the eastern rebel-held Benghazi, even as a Misrata resident was quoted as saying that the pro-Gaddafi forces had launched fresh attacks today.

At least 94 people were killed in an assault launched two days ago on the rebel-held Libyan city of Benghazi by forces loyal to Gaddafi, AFP quoted medics as saying.

Spain, Norway, and Denmark have also announced that they are joining the large-scale military intervention into Libya, the Press TV reported.

The Security Council resolution, adopted on Thursday, called for an immediate ceasefire and authorised "all necessary measures" for protecting civilians in Libya from Gaddafi's forces.

India, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany abstained from voting on the resolution, which was co-authored by Britain and France.

France, Britain and the US had warned Gaddafi on Friday that they would resort to military means if he ignored the UN resolution.

The air strikes was launched yesterday after officials of a number of countries meeting in Paris ordered a large-scale military intervention into Libya in order to end the assaults on civilians launched by Gaddafi's troops.

Meanwhile, Libya has suspended cooperation with Europe on the issue of illegal immigration, Libyan state-tv reported. It has also demanded an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis.

Mohammad al-Zawi, the secretary-general of the Libyan parliament, said his country was facing a "barbaric" attack, and reiterated that Libyan forces had been observing a "ceasefire".

African Union has criticized the military operations and called for an "immediate stop" to air strikes, saying it rejects "any kind of foreign military intervention" in Libya.

"The situation in Libya demands urgent action so an African solution (can be found) to the very serious crisis which this sister nation is going through," said Mauritanian President Ould Abdel Aziz who is one of the AU panel members.

A solution must take into account "our desire that Libya's unity and territorial integrity be respected", he said.

Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, the son and close advisor of Libyan leader Gaddafi, remained defiant, saying: “The whole country is united against the armed militia and the terrorists."

"The Americans and other Western countries are supporting the terrorists and the armed militia. That's it," he was quoted as saying by the ABC news.

Saif-Al-Islam said he was surprised that Obama, whome he thought "a good man and friend of Arab world, is bombing Libya".

"So it was a big surprise that, finally, President Obama -- we thought he's a good man and friend of Arab world -- is bombing Libya,” he said.

A day after the bombing in Libya began, Obama held a conference call with his top national security team to discussed the progress of OOD.

Obama received a briefing from AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham, on US military operations in Libya, besides those from National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and his Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, the White House said today.

Obama also discussed the diplomatic consultations taking place on the situation in Libya. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Defense Secretary Robert Gates also attended the conference call.