photo: Anja Niedringhaus – Associated Press/ Rebels in Benghazi brought down a Libyan fighter jet on Saturday
In response to international cries for intervention in Libya, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Thursday authorizing member states to implement a no-fly zone. While the resolution authorizes member states to protect Libyan civilians by using “all necessary measures,” it does not grant unlimited military authority. As agreed to by members including the western Allies, Russia, and the Arab League states, the resolution forbids foreign occupation “of any form” within Libyan territory. It also establishes a ban on all non-humanitarian flights in Libyan airspace or flights not otherwise approved by the UN.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s immediate response to the resolution’s passage was to declare a ceasefire. The move was widely seen as an effort to buy time, and late Friday night, rebels in Benghazi used the airwaves to call for fighters to man their posts; Gaddafi’s forces were reportedly within striking distance of the city. On Saturday morning, Benghazi came under intense rocket and mortar fire but the rebel fighters maintained control, pushing back Gaddafi’s 300 – 400 forces. The rebel health committee reported more than 120 fighters and civilians were killed in the assault, contradicting Gaddafi’s claim that the ceasefire had not been broken.
As forces loyal to Gaddafi withdrew from Benghazi, French fighter jets flew reconnaissance missions before launching airstrikes against military vehicles surrounding the city. Hours later, the Pentagon announced that 110 Tomahawk missiles had been launched from U.S. submarines, hitting 20 pro-Gaddafi installations including airfields. NATO operations are being conducted out of Naples while Sicily is being used as a staging ground for U.S., UK, Canadian, and Danish military forces. Saturday’s first phase of strikes was the kick-off of Operation Odyssey Dawn and is expected to have been a prequel to future U.S.-led strikes.
Comparisons have been made between U.S. strikes against Libya on March 19, 2011, and the commencement of Shock and Awe against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Despite the nature of the military actions undertaken, Congress has not officially declared war against either country.