US begins assault against Libyan air defenses

First wave of allied assault: 112 cruise missiles

March 19, 2011

By Associated Press & City Room

Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, Director of the Joint Staff (AP)

The Pentagon says U.S. and British ships and submarines have launched the first phase of a missile assault on Libyan air defenses, firing 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles at more than 20 targets along the coast.

Saturday's mission was aimed at clearing the way for imposition of a European-led no-fly zone over the North African country.

Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told reporters the Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from one British submarine and a number of American destroyers and subs. He said they hit more than 20 air defense sites along the Mediterranean coastline. He said the success of the mission was not immediately clear, adding that additional attacks would commence later.

Gortney said the mission has two goals: prevent further attacks by Libyan forces on rebels and other civilians, and degrade the Libyan military's ability to contest a no-fly zone.

President Barack Obama authorized limited military action against Libya Saturday, saying Moammar Gadhafi's continued assault on his own people left the U.S. and its international partners with no other choice.

"This is not an outcome US or any of our partners sought," Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. "We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy."

Obama declared once again that the United States would not send ground forces to Libya, though he said he is "deeply aware" of the risks of taking any military action.

Moammar Gadhafi is vowing Libya will defend itself from what he calls "crusader aggression."  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. Gadhafi spoke around midnight Saturday in a phone call to Libyan state TV.