Image:The destroyer USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile
ICFN Roderick Eubanks  /  U.S. Navy
The destroyer USS Barry launches a Tomahawk missile at Libyan targets at the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn on Saturday.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 3/19/2011 10:26:06 PM ET 2011-03-20T02:26:06

A coalition of American and European forces bombed Libyan targets by air and sea Saturday in the start of a military campaign to drive Moammar Gadhafi from power. The defiant Libyan leader vowed to resist the "crusader" aggression to the end.

French warplanes fired the first shots in the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war, destroying government tanks and armored vehicles in the region of the rebels' eastern stronghold, Benghazi. Hours later, British and U.S. warships and submarines launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles against Gadhafi's air defenses around the capital Tripoli and the western city of Misrata, which has been besieged by Gadhafi's forces, Pentagon officials said.

Early Sunday morning, several loud explosions were heard in Tripoli, followed by what sounded like bursts of anti-aircraft fire.Foreign aircraft were reported over the Bab al-Azizia military compound in Tripoli's southern suburbs, but targets were not immediately clear.

Libyan state TV on Sunday quoted the government's armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. The statement said most of the casualties were children. The report could not be independently confirmed.

The aim of the coalition's operation, dubbed Odyssey Dawn, was to enforce a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and stop Gadhafi from attacking overwhelmed rebel forces in the east.

"This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought," President Barack 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."

  1. Top stories: Turmoil in the Middle East
    1. UN: Gadhafi's food stocks to last just weeks
    2. S. African president: Gadhafi ready for truce
    3. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment
    4. Armed residents put up resistance to Syrian army
    5. Libyan rebels distribute rules on POW treatment

Less than two hours after Obama spoke, Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 41 years, said in a telephone call to Libyan state TV that he will arm civilians to defend Libya from "colonial, crusader" aggression.

"It is now necessary to open the stores and arm all the masses with all types of weapons to defend the independence, unity and honor of Libya," Gadhafi said.

"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."

Video: US launches airstrikes in Libya (on this page)

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.

Libya later called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Arabic satellite channels reported on Sunday.

The Western coalition included the U.S., Britain, France, Canada and Italy.

Story: Odyssey Dawn: The military operation

About 20 French fighter jets carried out "several strikes," military spokesman Thierry Burkhard told The Associated Press. He said earlier that one of the planes had fired the first shot against a Libyan military vehicle.

"All our planes have returned to base tonight," he said, and denied a Libyan TV report that a French plane had been hit.

He would not elaborate on what was hit or where, but said French forces focused on the Benghazi area and U.S. forces were focused in the west.

The British Ministry of Defense said that in addition to firing Tomahawk missiles from a submarine, Royal Air Force Tornado G4 fast jets flew 3,000 miles from RAF Marham, in Norfolk, and back to carry out bombing runs using Stormshadow missiles. It did not give details but noted the mission was the longest since the Falklands war with Argentina in 1982.

In Washington, Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney told reporters the cruise missiles were fired from several American destroyers and submarines and one British sub. He said they hit more than 20 air defense sites along the Mediterranean coast, many in the western half of the country that is Gadhafi's stronghold.

The U.S. vessels involved in launching the Tomahawks were two destroyers — USS Barry and USS Stout — and three submarines — USS Providence, USS Scranton and USS Florida. One British sub, the Westminster, also launched missiles.

A U.S. national security official told Reuters the barrages "severely disabled" Gadhafi's air defenses. "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.

  1. Get updates
    1. Follow us on Twitter

      Get the latest updates on this story and others from @breakingnews.

    2. Text NEWS to 67622 to receive mobile alerts

The commencement of the allied military campaign came on the eight-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the nation at 10:16 p.m. from the Oval Office, telling Americans that coalition forces "have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war."

Earlier Saturday in Libya, Gadhafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi after a unilateral cease-fire declared by his government failed to materialize, prompting western leaders meeting in Paris to announce the start of military intervention.

Video: Libyan official: Attacks resulted in 'tremendous casualties' (on this page)

"Those taking part agreed to put in place all necessary means, especially military, to enforce the decisions of the United Nations Security Council," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after meeting Western and Arab leaders.

Sarkozy said the operation, also backed by Arab nations, would continue unless the Libyan leader ceased fire.

"Col. Gadhafi has made this happen," British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters after the meeting. "We cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue."

He later appeared on television to say that British forces were in action over Libya.

World leaders on Libya

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that outside powers hoped their intervention would be enough to turn the tide against Gadhafi and allow Libyans to force him out.

"It is our belief that if Mr. Gadhafi loses the capacity to enforce his will through vastly superior armed forces, he simply will not be able to sustain his grip on the country."

Gadhafi had said Western powers had no right to intervene.

"This is injustice, this is clear aggression," government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim quoted Gadhafi as saying in a letter to France, Britain and the United Nations. "You will regret it if you take a step toward interfering in our internal affairs."

The Libyan government blamed the rebels, who it says are members of al-Qaida, for breaking a cease-fire around Benghazi.

In Tripoli, several thousand people gathered Saturday at the Bab al-Aziziyah palace, Gadhafi's compound that was bombed by U.S. warplanes in 1986, to show their support.

"There are 5,000 tribesmen that are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They better not try to attack our country," said farmer Mahmoud el-Mansouri.

"We will open up Libya's deserts and allow Africans to flood to Europe to blow themselves up as suicide bombers."

France and Britain have taken a lead role in pushing for international intervention in Libya and the United States — after embarking on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — has been at pains to stress it is supporting, not leading the operation.

In Benghazi, residents set up makeshift barricades with furniture, benches, road signs and even a barbecue in one case at intervals along main streets. Each barricade was manned by half a dozen rebels, but only about half of those were armed.

Hundreds of cars full of refugees fled Benghazi toward the Egyptian border after the city came under a bombardment overnight. One family of 13 women from a grandmother to small children, rested at a roadside hotel.

Image: Smoke billows from a Benghazi neighborhood.
Patrick Baz  /  AFP - Getty Images
Smoke billows from a Benghazi neighborhood Saturday as Libya's rebel stronghold came under attack from Gadhafi's forces.

"I'm here because when the bombing started last night my children were vomiting from fear," said one of them, a doctor. "All I want to do is get my family to a safe place and then get back to Benghazi to help. My husband is still there."

In the besieged western city of Misrata, residents said government forces shelled the rebel town again on Saturday and they were facing a humanitarian crisis as water supplies had been cut off for a third day.

"I am telling you, we are scared and we are alone", a Misrata resident, called Saadoun, told Reuters by telephone.

As explosions shook Benghazi on Saturday morning, rebels said they were forced to retreat from the outskirts of the city, but later claimed victory after holding back the advance.

"We revolutionaries have taken control of four tanks inside Benghazi. Rebel forces have pushed Gadhafi's forces out of Benghazi," said Nasr al-Kikili, a lawyer who works for the rebel media center in Benghazi, as crowds celebrated by firing guns in the air and parading on top of a tank.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: US launches airstrikes in Libya

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

loading photos...
  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
    AP
    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
  2. Image: TO GO WITH AFP PACKAGE ON THE 40TH ANNIV
    AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

Interactive: Libya uprising: The latest

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments