West pounds Gaddafi: The United States and Britain fired dozens of cruise missiles at Libyan targets Saturday evening, as the international campaign against Muammar Gaddafi went into high gear.
US and British ships and submarines fired 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles at more than 20 Libyan targets to take out their air defenses, a senior US military official said.
“Gaddafi’s air defense systems have been severely disabled,” a US security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It's too soon to predict what he and his ground forces may do in response to today's strikes.”
Early Sunday, Libya’s state television said 48 people were killed and another 150 were wounded in aerial strikes on “civilian areas” in the country.
Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, director of the US military's Joint Staff, said earlier no US aircraft were flying over Libya at this time and no US forces were on the ground.
Coalition forces were to target Libyan air defenses, especially around Tripoli and Misrata, another US official said Saturday. The senior source said the US, Britain, France, Italy and Canada were launching strikes along Libya's coast.
Several Arab states were expected to join the campaign later on.
The US is on the "leading edge" of coalition military operations, with American forces and planes to take part in the campaign, he said. At this time, the coalition has around 25 ships and submarines in Mediterranean, the official added.
The operation has been codenamed Odyssey Dawn.
Gaddafi: Region now a battleground
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Saturday he will arm civilians to defend Libya from what he called "colonial, crusader" aggression by Western forces that have launched air strikes against him.
"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honour of Libya," Gaddafi said in a speech broadcast on state television hours after the strikes began.
"We call on the peoples and citizens of the Arab and Islamic nations, Latin America, Asia and Africa to stand by the heroic Libyan people to confront this aggression, which will only increase the Libyan people's strength, firmness and unity," he said.
He also said the Mediterranean and North Africa were now a battleground, and that the interests of countries in the region would be in danger from now on.
Meanwhile, thousands of Libyans packed into Gaddafi's heavily fortified Tripoli compound to form a human shield against possible air strikes by allied forces. Fireworks erupted into the night sky and people fired defiant shots into the air.
"My mother and father told me that they (Western warplanes) would attack the compound so I came here to protect our leader," said one 10-year-old boy, Mahmoud.
'Crusader enemies hitting civilians'
Libyan state television reported on Saturday that the "crusader enemy," a reference to Western forces, bombarded civilian areas of several cities, including the capital Tripoli, Muammar Gaddafi's hometown Sirte and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
"The crusader enemy is continuing its air and missile bombardment tonight of several civilian targets in Zuwarah, Tripoli, Misrata, Sirte and Benghazi," state television said.
French fighter jet taking off (Photo: AP)
It said a hospital in the suburbs of Tripoli had been hit.
A spokesman for the Libyan armed forces, quoted by state news agency Jana, said that ambulances were dispatched to the scene of attacks to transport the wounded.
Witnesses reported loud explosions earlier to the east of Tripoli, where fireballs were seen on the horizon, but were unable to identify the origin of the blasts.
Gaddafi loyalists under attack (Photo: AP)
Al-Jazeera television reported that Libya's rebel military council was coordinating with the international coalition that had launched air-strikes against areas where Gaddafi's forces were present.
It also said Western forces had bombarded a military college near the west Libyan city of Misrata where it said Gaddafi's forces were based. There were no more details on either report.
French jets destroy tanksEarlier, French air force jets destroyed some tanks and armor during a defense ministry official said.
"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 earlier that four Libyan tanks had been destroyed to the south west of the Libyan city of Benghazi.
"The operations will continue over the next few days until the Libyan regime complies with the UN resolution," Juppe said in an interview with France 2 television. Allied warplanes have gone into in action to halt attacks by Gaddafi's forces on the rebel-held city of Benghazi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier on Saturday.
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to the story
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