28th May 2023

EU-led coalition strikes first Gaddafi target

  • The Paris summit. France and the UK have led international calls for military intervention (Photo:

A French jet opened fire on one of Colonel Gaddafi's tanks at 18.45 Libyan time on Saturday (19 March) in the first strike of Operation Odyssey Dawn, a military campaign by a new EU-US-Arab coalition to protect Libyan civilians.

Reports indicate the French mission destroyed four tanks in total at a position near Benghazi after Gaddafi forces attacked the rebel stronghold earlier in the day.

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British and US submarines and warships also fired dozens of cruise missiles at radars and anti-aircraft defences around Tripoli and along Libya's Mediterranean Sea coast. The armed forces of Canada, Denmark, Italy and Norway are shortly to join in.

Speaking before the strikes at an emergency summit of Arabic and Western countries in Paris on Saturday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "If we intervene in Arab countries, it is not in the name of an objective that we want to impose on the Libyan people. It is in the name of a universal conscience that cannot tolerate these kinds of crimes."

The summit saw 18 states plus UN chief Ban Ki Moon, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Arab League head Amr Moussa sign a formal communique on last week's UN resolution, which authorised the use of "all necessary measures" to protect civilians except "a foreign occupation force."

The Paris communique said: "While contributing in differentiated ways to the implementation of UNSCR 1973, we are determined to act collectively and resolutely to give full effect to these decisions ... We assure the Libyan people of our determination to be at their side to help them realise their aspirations."

The new alliance includes 10 EU members (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK), Canada, Norway and the US, as well as Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The involvement of Italy comes despite Rome's earlier objections to military intervention against its former ally.

The participation of Germany also indicates that the division inside the EU is not as significant as on the Iraq war in 2003. Germany last week abstained from the UN vote and said it would not contribute military resources.

Libya's closest EU neighbour, Malta, which lies just 350km from the Libyan coast, has said it will play no part in the military effort.

UK leader David Cameron in a statement on Saturday evening said: "Tonight, British forces are in action over Libya ... What we are doing is necessary, it is legal, and it is right."

US President Barack Obama underlined the importance of the Arab contingent in the anti-Gaddafi coalition. He added: "Our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected. In the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians, our coalition is prepared to act."

The events in Libya come at the same time as a crisis in the Arabian Gulf.

A committee in Iran's parliament, the Majilis, on Saturday called on Saudi Arabian and UAE soldiers to immediately leave Bahrain. The two Sunni Muslim states have sent troops to protect Bahrain's ruling Sunni clan following anti-government protests by the country's Shia Muslim majority. Iran, a Shia state, has in the past made territorial claims on Bahrain.

Speaking in Paris, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton sided against Iran despite the fact Bahraini police last week shot and killed peaceful demonstrators.

"With Sheikh Abdullah [of the UAE] and prime minister Hamad bin Jassem [of Qatar], I reiterated our strong and enduring partnership ... We share the view that Iran's activities in the gulf, including its efforts to advance its agenda in neighbouring continues undermines peace and stability," she said.

The story was updated at 11pm on 19 March to add information on US and UK missile strikes


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