Twenty French fighter jets destroyed a number of tanks in Benghazi Saturday, March 19, in the first shots of the Western-Arab operation authorized by the UN Security Council 1973 against Muammar Qaddafi, soon joined by British jet fighters. After the US stated it would not take part in the first action or send troops, a US submarine and UK warships fired 112 Tomahawk missiles at 20 Libyan targets east of Tripoli, among them the Libyan army's supreme command center near the town of Sirte and air defenses. Casualties have not been reported.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would provide the coalition operation with support by its "unique assets."
This is the first time in 25 years, that the US had attacked the Qaddafi regime.
The mission is under the operational control of the US Africa command. Libya State TV says coalition attacks have killed civilians.
debkafile's military sources report that during the last 24 hours, Qaddafi has dispersed thousands of his soldiers and diehard loyalists at military sites liable to be struck from the air or sea. Thousands of men, women and children waving green flags are gathered at his compound in Tripoli; the Khamis 32 Brigade entered Benghazi in the morning and lined up along its main thoroughfare, the Gemal Abdul Nasser street. The elite brigade was positioned at the heart of the rebel stronghold so that coalition jet bombers and warships could not strike them without substantial collateral civilian casualties.
Trucks and buses scattered more civilians along the country's main highways and intersections and the runways of Libyan Air force air bases.
A seaborne missile attack on the Libyan coast was indicated by the arrival in the Mediterranean of the nuclear assault submarine USS Providence last Monday, March 14. This sub has played a part in every important US missile offensive in the last decade, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq as well as important missions in Afghanistan. The score of coalition ranged opposite Libyan shores at present include the USS Kearsage marine helicopter carrier, the Amphibious Transport Docks and the USS Ponce, USS Barry and USS Mason guided missile destroyers.
Earlier Saturday, March 19, debkafile reported:
debkafile's special sources report that French warplanes went into attack formation over Libya Saturday afternoon, March 19, without waiting for 22 world powers meeting in Paris to issue a communiqué confirming a military operation against Muammar Qaddafi in line with the UN Security Council resolution. It was agreed that France, Britain, Norway, Qatar and Canada would take part in the offensive with 31 targets planned for first stage, 2 military airfields and Qaddafi's palace in the second and Libyan forces in the third. Britain and France have imposed a sea blockade on Libyan shores. French defense officials says French fighter jet has fired on a Libyan military vehicle. Twenty planes taking part in mission.
As the operation began, Washington issued a special statement say that the US is not involved in the first action but plans sea-launched missile attackswithout offering a timeline. It was initially assumed thatan American sea attack on Col. Qaddafi will take place at a later stage of the military operation, but another comment by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after attending the Paris conference further reduced that option too. She said that American would support its allies wit its exclusive resources in enforcing UN Resolution 1973, making no mention of sea-launched missiles.
The coalition of powers plans to expand its operations in the next 24 hours and then wait to see how Qaddafi responds.
The Libyan ruler last week threatened retaliation against the military and civilian targets of any nations attacking him in Europe and the Middle East. Saturday, he warned the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British premier David Cameron they would regret leading the group attacking his country.
Western intelligence experts calculate that he may he decide to strike back at French and British Middle East targets by air might, missiles and special forces, as well possibly as hitting civilian locations inside France. If this happens, the Americans are expected to join the anti-Qaddafi operation using their naval and air forces.
debkafile's military sources report that the Libyan ruler extensively prepared himself for attack in recent weeks, scattering his warplanes and ground forces in desert hideouts to minimize their vulnerability.
He, his family and elite officials have most likely gone to ground in secret hideouts.
In the last month, he bought up vast quantities of anti-air and other missile systems and sophisticated electronic hardware in order to withstand the offensive against him.