President Barack Obama authorised limited military action against Libya on Saturday, saying Moammar Qadhafi’s continued assault on his own people left the U.S. and its international partners with no other choice. The Pentagon said it fired 110 cruise missiles at 20 targets.
Mr. Obama said military action was not his first choice.
“This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought,” Mr. 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.”
A senior military official said the U.S. launched air defences Saturday with strikes along the Libyan coast that were launched by Navy vessels in the Mediterranean. The official said the assault would unfold in stages and target air defence installations around Tripoli, the capital, and a coastal area south of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.
Mr. Obama declared once again that the United States would not send ground forces to Libya, though he said he is “deeply aware” of the risks of taking any military action.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama warned that the international community was prepared to act with urgency.
“Our consensus was strong, and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency,” Mr. Obama said.
Top officials from the U.S., Europe and the Arab world met in Paris, where they announced on Saturday immediate military action to protect civilians caught in combat between Qadhafi’s forces and rebel fighters. American ships and aircraft were poised for action but weren’t participating in the initial French air missions.
As the military action was announced, French fighter jets swooped over Benghazi, the opposition stronghold that was stormed by Libyan government forces earlier Saturday, in defiance of a proclaimed cease—fire.
France, Britain and the United States had warned Mr. Qadhafi on Friday that they would resort to military means if he ignored the U.N. resolution demanding a cease—fire.
The United States has a host of forces and ships in the area, including submarines, destroyers, amphibious assault and landing ships.
The U.S. intended to limit its involvement -- at least in the initial stages -- to helping protect French and other air missions by taking out Libyan air defences, but depending on the response could launch additional attacks in support of allied forces, a U.S. official said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of military operations.