French aircraft on flights over Libya; US missiles launched at targets

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn.
Image: U.S. Navy photo.

French military aircraft began flying missions over Libya today in support of a no-fly zone the United Nations approved Thursday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said that "[o]ur air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi [...] As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town [and] are prepared to intervene against tanks, armored vehicles threatening unarmed civilians." One of the planes deployed has reportedly fired against a ground military vehicle.

The intervention is believed to be the first such action since the no-fly zone was approved. Dassault Rafale fighter jets have been deployed from Saint-Dizier, France, and have reportedly encountered no problems during their missions.

This action was followed by United States warships launching Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Tripoli and Misrata.

Other countries are preparing to assist in enforcing the no-fly zone. Italy has offered to allow aircraft use at their air bases, and Canada has already sent an aircraft to the region, though they will not immediately begin flying missions.

In Benghazi, government forces have reportedly launched an attack on the rebel stronghold, though Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has denied this claim. Pro-Gaddafi forces have apparently shot down a rebel aircraft.

Some 200,000 people are estimated to have fled the city, according to the UN.