US and British forces have fired a barrage of at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya against Muammar Gaddafi’s air defences, the US military said.
A top officer confirmed on Saturday that the missile strikes after President Barack Obama said he had ordered “limited military action” to support a UN resolution backing armed intervention against Gaddafi’s regime.
Admiral William Gortney told reporters that “earlier this afternoon over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both US and British ships and submarines struck more than 20 integrated air defence systems and other air defence facilities ashore.”
The first missile struck at 1900 GMT following air strikes carried out earlier by French warplanes, said Gortney, director of the US joint staff.
“It’s a first phase of a multi-phase operation” to enforce the UN resolution and prevent the Libyan regime from using force “against its own people,” he said.
One British submarine joined with other US ships and submarines in the missile attacks, he said.
US and allied countries are not yet enforcing a no-fly zone with aircraft patrolling the skies, he said, but “we’re setting the conditions to be able to reach that state.”
“Our mission right now is to shape the battle space in such a way that our partners may take the lead,” he said, suggesting more of a supporting role for the American military.
Asked if the United states would send in fighter jets to carry out bombing raids, Gortney declined to comment.
Referring to a map of the operation, Gortney said that most of the targets “are on or near the coast, a fact which made their destruction vital to the enforcement of a no-fly zone, since so much of the air activity we have seen and so much of the regime’s military efforts have been in this part of the country.”
The targets included surface-to-air missile sites but it was too early to say how effective the Tomahawk strikes were, he said.
“Because it is night over there, it will be some time before we have a complete picture of the success of these strikes,” the admiral said.
The US operation – named “Odyssey Dawn” – followed initial missions by French warplanes, which carried out four air strikes Saturday, destroying several armoured vehicles from Gaddafi’s forces.
Two US Navy destroyers and three US submarines are positioned in the Mediterranean near Libya, all of which are equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles.