Allied officials said two days of strikes by missiles and warplanes have effectively grounded Muammar Qaddafi’s air force, halting his advances into the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Libya’s second-biggest city.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the coalition isn’t targeting the Libyan leader himself, while Vice AdmiralBill Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that Libya’s military had not flown an aircraft in two days and the coalition is in full control of airspace.
Qaddafi’s forces, who last week had closed in on Benghazi after recapturing almost all the towns lost to them during the uprising, are being taken apart. The Libyan leader denounced the coalition allied against him — including the U.S., the U.K. and France — as “the party of Satan” after Tomahawk missiles destroyed his weapons and jets patrolled the North African country’s skies.
“We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states,” Qaddafi, who has ruled since 1969, said yesterday. “We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it.”
It was possible that a Libyan jet or helicopter could still take off but it would be targeted by coalition patrols over the country, Gortney said. The military action continued with B-2 bombers attacking airfields and air-defense sites, CBS reported.
Crude oil for April delivery gained as much as $2.28 to $103.35 a barrel, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and was at $103.26 at 12:58 p.m. Sydney time. The contract, which expires tomorrow, dropped 35 cents to $101.07 on March 18. The more-actively traded May contract rose as much as $2.42 to $104.27.
Brent crude oil for May settlement increased $2.01, or 1.8 percent, to $115.94 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract fell 97 cents, or 0.8 percent, to end the session at $113.93 a barrel on March 18.
Libyan output has fallen to less than 400,000 barrels a day, about a quarter of the production before the crisis, and may stop, Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s National Oil Co., said on March 19. The country produced 1.59 million barrels a day in January, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The coalition ordered Qaddafi to withdraw his forces from major cities after weeks of fighting with rebels that has left hundreds dead in the bloodiest of popular uprisings to have swept the Middle East this year.
Command Center Destroyed
Al-Jazeera television showed live footage of Libyan anti- aircraft missiles firing into the night. Witnesses said the weapons were near Qaddafi’s residence, it said, without saying who the witnesses were. A Libyan command center, which was near Qaddafi’s residence, was destroyed, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gates told reporters traveling with him to Russia that the military campaign against Qaddafi should be limited to the terms of a United Nations resolution rather than being broadened to target the leader directly.
Qaddafi and his residence were not targeted in the allied attack, Vice Admiral Gortney said at the Pentagon briefing. “We are not going after Qaddafi,” he said. “If he happens to be at a place, if he’s inspecting a surface-to-air missile site” on the target list, he may be inadvertently hit.
Gortney said Spain, Belgium, Denmark and the Arab nation of Qatar have joined the coalition. The U.S., the U.K., France, Italy and Canada have amassed at least 25 ships off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea.
U.K. armed forces launched Tomahawk missiles from a submarine in the Mediterranean against Libyan air defense system targets, the Ministry of Defence said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday.
Libya’s armed forces announced they were imposing a nationwide cease-fire.
White House national security adviser Tom Donilon, briefing reporters during President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, said the administration’s view is that the report of a cease-fire either “isn’t true” or that the cease-fire has been “immediately violated.” He said the coalition lined up against the Libyan leader will monitor Qaddafi’s actions, not his words.
“Qaddafi has lost legitimacy in Libya,” Donilon said, and will be “increasingly isolated” internationally.
The opening phase of the military strikes had “a pretty significant effect very early” and Qaddafi’s forces have been pushed back from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program yesterday.
“The initial operations have been very effective, taking out most of his air-defense systems, some of his air fields,” Mullen said. “There is still, I think, a great deal to be done.”
Asked in an NBC “Meet the Press” interview if the mission could be accomplished with Qaddafi still in power, Mullen said: “That’s certainly potentially one outcome.”
Italy made eight warplanes available for action in Libya, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told RAI television. The government in Rome has frozen more than 6 billion euros ($8.5 billion) of Libyan assets, an Italian official said, speaking on the condition of not being further identified.
Talks are under way for an emergency meeting of Arab League nations to discuss the situation in Libya, the Egyptian government-owned Middle East News Agency cited Secretary General Amr Moussa as saying.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Paris that Arab participation was “extraordinarily important.” More can be expected from the Middle East states, she said.
A United Nations resolution passed on March 17 permits “all necessary measures” short of an occupation to protect civilians from the violence. Western leaders haven’t said what they’ll do if the no-fly zone fails to force Qaddafi to comply.
The U.K.’s Foreign Office said in a statement that “we will continue to work with our Arab partners to enforce the resolution for the good of the Libyan people.”