Western Powers Mobilize for Libyan Airstrikes

Britain, France, the United States are preparing for air strikes against Libya after the United Nations authorized action.

A coalition of Western nations mobilized Friday to launch airstrikes against Libya and enforce a no-fly zone after the United Nations approved military intervention aimed at preventing the Muammar Gaddafi regime from crushing anti-government forces.

The United Nations Security Council enacted a resolution on Thursday that legitimized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect the civilian population of Libya.

The North African country has seen violent civil war in recent weeks with armed forces loyal to the country’s longtime ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi marching on rebel strongholds in the east.

Whereas anti-government militias initially succeeded in claiming control of major cities along the Mediterranean coast, the use of heavy artillery and airpower against them forced the rebels to retreat. As of Friday, they were still in control of the area between Benghazi and Tobruk.

Immediately after the Security Council approved military action, Britain, France and the United States began scrambling airplanes. They would presumably start taking out anti-aircraft defenses along the Libyan coast to prevent fighter jets from being targeted from the ground during the no-fly zone operation. According to the French government, strikes could commence “rapidly.”

Several US Navy warships were already deployed in the Mediterranean while the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier was on standby in the Red Sea.

The French carrier Charles de Gaulle was stationed in Toulon while the Royal Navy had two vessels off the Libyan coast. The British also have a sovereign base in Cyprus and Chinook helicopters and early warning aircraft based in Malta though they would need permission from the Maltese government to use them in action over Libya.

While NATO was formally contemplating its role in the intervention on Friday, Canada and Norway announced that they would take part in the operation while Poland pledged logistical support.

Italy reported that it would make its bases available for operations. The air base at Sigonella in Sicily, which provides logistical support for the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet, is one of NATO’s closest bases to Libya. Malta, not far from the Libyan coast, would not allow international forces to operate from its bases, citing constitutional neutrality.

Spain announced that it would make the Morón Air Base as well as the naval station at Rota to the northwest of Gibraltar available. The country will contribute four to six F-18 fighter jets.

Denmark awaited parliamentary approval for participation in the mission. The Belgian government said it would contribute six F-16s and a frigate.

Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — the only nations in the Middle East that have not witnessed internal unrest — indicated their willingness to support the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

Germany, which abstained from the voting on the Security Council resolution last night, would not partake in the effort.

Analysts feared that a no-fly zone might not prevent conflagration on the ground nor necessarily stop the regime from deploying helicopter gunships against anti-government forces. Germany’s ambassador to the UN warned on Thursday that the West risks being dragged into a protracted conflict in Libya and that it should not expect “quick results with few casualties.”

This post was updated with new information.