Libya(ANN)President Barack Obama said the U.S. and its allies launched attacks on Libyan air defenses today to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from continuing his assault on civilians.
“We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy,” Obama said in Brasilia, Brazil, where he has started a scheduled five-day trip to Latin America. “We are answering the calls of a threatened people and we are acting in the interests of the United Statesand the world.”
By attacking anti-government strongholds in cities such as Benghazi, Qaddafi ignored the demands of the United Nations and turned aside the opportunity to avoid a military confrontation, the U.S. president said.
As many as 25 U.S., Canadian and Italian vessels, including the USS Mount Whitney command vessel, led an attack, dubbed “Odyssey Dawn,” that included U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles and aerial jamming, according to a Pentagon official who spoke on the condition he not be identified. Aircraft from the U.K. and France were in the air over Libya.
Targets included four Libyan airfields near Tripoli and air-defense sites in the east, the official said. The official declined to speculate on the duration of the air-defense suppression operation.
“This is not an outcome that the United States or any of our partners sought,” Obama said. Qaddafi’s “attacks on his own people have continued, his forces have been on the move. And the danger faced by the people of Libya has grown.”
The UN Security Council voted March 17 to ground Qaddafi’s air force and to grant military authority to the U.S. and its allies to protect civilians and population centers threatened by his forces.
Libya has about 30 sites with surface-to-air missiles, linked to 15 early-warning radar, that pose a “significant threat” to foreign warplanes over or near Libyan airspace, according to information provided by the Pentagon.
American, European, Canadian, and Arab leaders met in Paris earlier today to discuss the details of their operation to protect civilians from attacks by Qaddafi’s forces.
Shortly after the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would use its “unique capabilities” and support “all necessary measures” to implement the no-fly zone authorized by the Security Council.
Obama took part in a secure conference call at about noon in Brasilia that included Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Clinton and Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the outcome of the Paris meeting, according to Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser.
In his statement, Obama reiterated that no U.S. ground forces would be used in Libya and said that U.S. was engaged in “limited” military action to support an international effort in which other nations will take a leading role.
“I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it,” Obama said. “I’ve acted after consulting with my national security team, and Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress. And in the coming hours and days, my administration will keep the American people fully informed.”
Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, though it accounts for less than 2 percent of global production, according to Bloomberg estimates. Crude oil for April delivery slipped 9 cents to $101.07 a barrel this week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures are up about 23 percent from a year ago, partly on concern that the turmoil that has spread across the Middle East and North Africa will engulf major oil-producing states.
Obama left Brasilia this evening for Rio de Janeiro, where he’s scheduled to deliver an address on relations between the U.S. and Brazil. He’s also scheduled to stop in Chile and El Salvador before returning to Washington on March 23. Rhodes said the schedule hasn’t changed because of the confrontation with Libya.
“We have no plans to cut the trip short,” Rhodes said on a conference call with reporters. The administration is confident in its ability to maintain secure communications to stay in touch with the Pentagon and leaders in other nations, he said. “Right now that’s very much our approach and we’ll continue that tomorrow.”