US official: Gaddafi defenses 'severely disabled'

Libyan state TV reports 48 killed, 150 wounded in air strike; 110 cruise missiles fired on Libyan targets by US, England.

By REUTERS
March 19, 2011 23:29
3 minute read.
French aircraft is prepared for a mission to Libya

Air crew prepare a French combat plane before it flies to L . (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)

WASHINGTON - Muammar Gaddafi's air defenses have been 'severely disabled' by a barrage of US-led missile strikes launched on Saturday, a US national security official said.

"Qaddafi's air defense 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," the source said on condition of anonymity.

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Libyan state TV reported Sunday that the airstrikes on several Libyan cities had killed 48 people and wounded 150 in "civilian areas." The statement by the Libyan armed forces said the capital Tripoli as well as the cities of Sirte, Benghazi, Misrata and Zuwarah were hit.

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US and British ships and submarines fired more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan targets to take out their air defenses, a senior US military official said on Saturday.

The US also launched cruise missiles from a warship against Libyan targets, as part of a UN-mandated intervention in Libya.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the US military's Joint Staff, said no US aircraft were flying over Libya at this time and no US forces were on the ground.

Earlier, Libyan state television reported the "crusader enemy", a reference to Western forces, bombarded civilian areas of Tripoli, fuel storage tanks that supplied the city of Misrata in west Libya, Muammar Gaddafi's hometown Sirte and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The report said a hospital in the suburbs of Tripoli had been hit.

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French air force jets also destroyed some tanks and armored vehicles, a French defense ministry official said on Saturday.

"Yes, we have destroyed a number of tanks and armored vehicles," the official said, adding that he could not immediately confirm the number.

Al Jazeera television reported that four Libyan tanks had been destroyed to the south west of the Libyan city of Benghazi.

The first shot was fired by a French aircraft and destroyed a military vehicle at around 1645 GMT, French defense ministry and army officials said.

"A first target was engaged and destroyed," ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire told reporters.

An armed forces spokesman told the same briefing that the operation to halt Muammar Gaddafi's advance on rebel forces involved around 20 planes and an area 100 km by 150 km (60 by 100 miles) around the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier will leave France for Libya on Sunday, the spokesman added. A central command center for the operation was still being set up.

Earlier Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that Western air forces, with Arab League approval, had gone into action over Libya and were preventing Gaddafi's forces from attacking Benghazi.

"As of now, our planes are preventing air attacks on the city of Benghazi," he said adding that military action supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada and backed by Arab nations could be halted if Gaddafi stopped his forces attacking.


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