As allied aircraft pounded Libyan forces on the ground, Muammar al-Gaddafi promised a protracted war with the coalition that includes France, Britain, the U.S. and Arab league nations.
“We have Allah with us, you have the devil on your side,” Gaddafi said on state television. “You backward barbarians, this is an aggression that has no justification.
During the broadcast, viewers were shown only the image of a golden fist clenching a model of a U.S. jet – commemorating the 1986 U.S. airstrike on Libya, in which an American military aircraft was shot down.
The self-described colonel promised “a long-drawn war, and patience that has no limits.”
Although the U.S. currently leads the allied effort, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates indicated that the U.S. will soon hand over control to either a UK-France coalition or NATO. However, Gates hoped that the operation in Libya will not be seen as solely a NATO action.
“I think there is a sensitivity on the part of the Arab League to being seen to be operating under a NATO umbrella," Gates said. “And so the question is if there is a way we can work out NATO's command and control machinery without it being a NATO mission and without a NATO flag, and so on.”
Throughout Saturday evening, British and U.S. warships fired a total of 124 tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan air defense sites and communication centers in Tripoli, the Libyan capitol and Gaddafi’s stronghold. Heavy anti-aircraft fire and power outages in some areas of the city were reported.
The following morning, French fighter jets patrolled the skies over Tripoli. A French official said that no shots were fired because Libya’s air defense capabilities were significantly degraded.
A Pentagon official said Sunday that three B-2 stealth bombers were used to hit targets in Misurata airport, which has seen both civilian and the military usage.
Destroyed tanks and trucks littered a road just outside of Benghazi on Sunday – evidence of an earlier French airstrike. A rebel said that the twisted and charred remains belonged to a government convoy sent to assault the city in a CNN broadcast, which showed bodies of pro-Gaddafi forces strewn next to the vehicles.
On Sunday, rebels set up checkpoints and conducted careful searches throughout Benghazi for fear of attacks from pro-Gaddafi supporters hiding amongst the local populace.
The allied air strike comes after the U.N. Security council authorized the use of force to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. The Arab League was instrumental in the passage of the U.N. resolution.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced of pro-Gaddafi supporters including women and children forming themselves into a human shield near the Libyan dictator’s compound, though it remains unclear whether the show of loyalty is genuine or coerced. The group was heard singing a song quoting a Gaddafi speech, “Disinfect the germs [rebels] from each house and each room.”
“If they want to hit Muammar Gaddafi, they must hit us because we are all Muammar Gaddafi,” said 52-year-old supporter Ghazad Muftah, according to The New York Times.
Libyan officials invited a journalist to Gaddafi’s compound to see what may have been damage caused by cruise missiles, according to CNN.
However, Pentagon officials denied allied forces were targeting the despot. “We are not going after Gaddafi," U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney emphasized at a Pentagon press briefing earlier.
"Benghazi is not completely safe from attack but it is certainly under less threat than it was yesterday," he continued, referring to the rebel stronghold that has been hotly contested in prior days. “We believe his [Gaddafi] forces are under considerable stress and suffering from isolation and a good deal of confusion.”
The vice admiral also contended that there were “no civilian casualties,” referring to a Libyan report that 48 people including women, children and a cleric who had died.
China, Russia and Germany had earlier abstained from voting for the U.N. resolution to authorize a no-fly zone in Libya. A longtime trade partner, China “expressed regret” over the use of military force in Libya, despite not vetoing the Security Council’s resolution approving the use of force.
“The Chinese side has always opposed the use of military force in international relations," a government statement said after military strikes against Libya.
Analysts said Beijing’s decision Thursday represents a major shift in China's diplomatic strategy, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Arab League
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, though in favor for the no-fly zone, criticized the alleged fatalities despite U.S. claims to the contrary.
“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," Moussa said. Nonetheless, Arab League chief of staff Heisham Youssef said Moussa's comments did not mean the organization had changed its mind.
“The Arab League position has not changed. We fully support the implementation of a no-fly zone,” Youssef said. "Our ultimate aim is to end the bloodshed and achieve the aspirations of the Libyan people.”
Qatar is to contribute four Mirage 2000 fighter jets, marking the first tangible response by an Arab league nation.
The International Coalition
The international aerial and naval contingent supporting the operations in Libya is substantial.
Six CF-18 fighter jets from Canada landed at an Italian base in Sicily, along with 140 military personnel. Italy has pledged four Tornado jet fighter-bombers, as well as usage of three military airbases.
France has deployed a number of aircraft. On Sunday, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed into the Mediterranean for deployment near the Libyan coast.
Britain has sent two frigates, as well as deploying Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets from an air base in southern Cyprus. Belgium plans to send F-16 fighters and 200 personnel to a base in Greece on Monday.
Spain has promised the use of its Boeing 707 refueling aircraft, in addition to two airbases where U.S. air force planes have been spotted.
Besides having ships already stationed in the Mediterranean, the U.S. plans to send more naval vessels including the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, based in Virginia.
For weeks, Libya has been plunged into violence from anti-government protests that resulted into a government crackdown against civilians. Since the protests, reports have surfaced of armed militias loyal to Gaddafi killing civilians at random. Rebels have armed themselves, and have since then fought government forces in fierce battles. A few army units defected to the rebel camp in defiance of Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.
Amidst fierce battle with government forces, pro-rebel sympathizers cheered the coalition attack. In previous days, the rebels lost significant territory in battles with Gaddafi's better-equipped and trained army. A MiG-23 fighter jet said to belong to rebels was shot down over Benghazi, Saturday – as seen in an AFP photo.
Sources associated with the rebels reported over a thousand people had died in the weeks of violence, while the regime maintains that only 150 armed rebels were killed.
Prayers for Peace
In the midst of violence, evangelicals urged believers worldwide to pray for peace to come to the Arab world, which has been rocked by protests and insurrections against oppressive regimes, corruption and lack of economic opportunities for the poor throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“When we pray for the Middle East, we should be praying mainly for conditions to prevail that sustain freedom and peace…so that the gospel would run and triumph, and millions would turn to Christ and be saved for his great glory," said evangelical pastor John Piper.
“Such conditions would include freedom for other religions too, since Christians do not spread their faith by the sword, but by proclamation and service.”