The United States has launched missile strikes against Libyan air defenses, joining the allied effort to contain Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.
A Pentagon official said Saturday more than 110 Tomahawk missiles launched from U.S. and British ships and submarines in the Mediterranean struck Libyan targets Saturday. More than 20 targets deemed a direct threat to coalition forces and Libyan civilians were hit in the attack.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed to defend his country from “unjustified crusader aggression.” He said he would open the arms depots so Libyans could arm themselves. Mr. Gadhafi vowed to retaliate against military and civilian targets, saying western strikes had turned the Mediterranean into a “real battlefield.”
But in Brazil, visiting U.S. President Barack Obama said Mr. Gadhafi had given the West no choice but to take military action. British Prime Minister David Cameron said in London that the action against Mr. Gadhafi was “necessary, legal and right.”
Earlier Saturday, French warplanes pounded Libyan targets, the first foreign strikes enforcing a United Nations “no-fly” zone over Libya. The military action was decided at an emergency international summit in Paris earlier in the day.
A French military spokesman said his forces targeted a vehicle that was threatening civilians in Libya. But news reports say the French fighters destroyed four Libyan tanks near the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Pro-government forces in Libya had advanced against rebels on two fronts on Saturday. Insurgents in their eastern stronghold of Benghazi said government loyalists had been pushing forward, in apparent disregard of a cease-fire Mr. Gadhafi declared on Friday.
There were also reports of fighting south of Benghazi in Adjabiya as well as in Misrata, a rebel-held city in western Libya near Tripoli. The Reuters news agency quotes residents who say nine people were killed in the city on Saturday as a result of government shelling and sniper fire.
Mr. Gadhafi had sent urgent messages to world leaders Saturday, including Mr. Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In a letter read to reporters by a government spokesman in Tripoli, Mr. Gadhafi noted the rebels had seized control of Benghazi, and asked rhetorically how Mr. Obama would “behave” if there was a similar situation in the United States.
Addressing the secretary-general, Mr. Gadhafi described the resolution as “invalid.” He predicted that any Western action against Libya would be seen as “clear aggression.”
Russia said Saturday it “regretted” the international military action against Libya. A Foreign Ministry statement said the resolution had been “hastily” passed.
Earlier Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that representatives of the U.N., European Union, Arab League and Western powers had agreed to use all necessary means — including military force — at their Paris summit. He said they agreed to carry out provisions in the U.N. Security Council resolution, approved Thursday, that declared the “no-fly” zone over Libya.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended the summit, defended the world leaders’ decision. She said that while there was talk of a cease-fire from Tripoli, the reality on the ground told a different story. Clinton said world powers believed that any further delay in action would put more Libyan civilians at risk.
Clinton added that French planes already were in the air above Libya as the group was meeting.
The world leaders also heard an urgent plea from Mr. Ban, who attended the summit. Mr. Ban said, given the “critical situation on the ground” in Libya, it was “imperative” that world powers act with “speed and decision.” He said U.N. envoys had reported “worrisome signs” in Libya, including “threats and incitement against the armed opposition.”
Separately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the formation of a naval blockade.