Libya No Fly Zone France Air Strikes Military Action Now
Libya: UN security council backs no-fly zone and air strikes
The 15-member council voted in favour of a resolution authorising ‘all necessary measures short of an occupation force’
British, French and US military aircraft are preparing to protect the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi after the United Nations security council voted in favour of a no-fly zone and air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi‘s forces.
With Gaddafi’s troops closing in on Benghazi, the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, said “time is of the essence” and that France would support military action set to take place within hours.
Jets could take off from French military bases along the Mediterranean coast, about 750 miles from Libya. Several Arab countries would join the operation.
The 15-member security council voted in favour of a resolution authorising “all necessary measures short of an occupation force” to protect civilians. Ten countries including Britain, the US and France, supported the resolution, none opposed it and five, including Russia, China and Germany, abstained.
The finalising of military preparations came as Gaddafi’s defence ministry issued a strong warning in a statement broadcast on Libyan television: “Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger, and civilian and military [facilities] will become targets of Libya’s counterattack. The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short-term, but also in the long-term.”
Gaddafi told Libyan rebels that his forces would invade Benghazi and show no mercy to fighters who resisted them. “No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come,” the Libyan leader declared. He warned Benghazi residents that soldiers would search every house in the city and people who had no arms had no reason to fear. “There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight.”
Residents and a rebel spokesman reported three air strikes on the outskirts of the city on Thursday, including at the airport, and another air raid further south. There was also heavy fighting in residential areas of nearby Ajdabiya, where around 30 people were killed, the TV station al-Arabiya reported.
The UN resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France and Lebanon. The US, which had been prevaricating for weeks, backed the resolution.
A security council source said the resolution would impose a no-fly zone over Libya and also authorise “air strikes against tank columns advancing on Benghazi or engaging naval ships bombarding Benghazi.”
A source at UN headquarters in New York said military forces could be in action soon after a security council resolution called for states to protect civilians against attacks by Gaddafi’s forces by air, land and sea. Nato would have to meet after the vote to review the military planning that has already been completed, the source continued.
David Cameron spoke to leaders of Arab countries on Wednesday night and Thursday to persuade them to take part. The US had demanded Arab involvement to ensure that the west could not be accused of imposing its will on the Arab world. The prime minister also spoke to African and European leaders. Nigeria, Gabon, South Africa and Germany currently have seats on the security council.
Speaking outside the UN security council in New York, Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, said there was “reason to anticipate that some Arab countries will participate.” But he said a land invasion was out of the question. “For us, and in the resolution itself, there is no question of having people on the ground in Libya.”
Germany, which is opposed to a no-fly zone, is sceptical about the value of military action. In an interview with the Guardian, Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said Berlin remained strongly opposed to any military intervention in Libya or the use of air strikes against Gaddafi.
Westerwelle warned that the consequences of western military intervention were unpredictable and could affect freedom of movement in the Arab world. “Your own instinct is to say: ‘We have to do something’. But military intervention is to take part in a civil war that could go on for a long time. Germany has a strong friendship with our European partners, but we won’t take part in any military operation and I will not send German troops to Libya,” he said.
Instead, Westerwelle said there were non-force options that could still be used against Libya, including “targeted sanctions, political pressure and international isolation.”
“Considering alternatives to military engagement is not the same as doing nothing,” he said. He declined to say how Germany would vote ahead of the vote in the UN security council.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister has been making a series of calls on Libya. He has spoken to a number of Arab and African leaders. We can now confirm that he has also spoken to several European leaders.
“In all his calls, the prime minister has made the case for strong action by the UN security council, to increase the pressure on Gaddafi and put a stop to the campaign he is waging against the Libyan people. The prime minister will be making further calls this evening.”
After weeks of stalling by the US, Washington backed the resolution after the Arab League joined the calls for a no-fly zone. The Obama administration was stalled by a split between the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who favoured a no-fly zone, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates. The White House, caught in the middle, dithered. Gates, although opposed to the no-fly zone, redeployed US naval vessels close to the Libyan coast and told the president that the military was capable of fighting on a third front. Speculation as to which countries would participate included Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
John Kerry, chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, speaking before the UN vote, said: “Time is running out for the Libyan people. The world needs to respond immediately.”