U.S. and British warships have reportedly launched the opening salvo of the intervention in Libya — called Operation Odyssey Dawn — firing some 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Qaddafi anti-air defenses, mostly on the coast of Western Libya and extending between Tripoli and Benghazi. Word is that U.S. AFRICOM will run the first few days of the operation in an effort to “shape the battlefield” before turning over command to another member of the coalition.
The initial launch also included the launching of American electronic warfare aircraft.
The Post suggest that the administration has been has been “reluctant to lead the operation,” and “would quickly turn over control to its international partners after the opening salvos.”
CNN’s Ed Henry reports from an administration official that the Pentagon is planning for “heavy, kinetic action” on the part of U.S. forces, lasting “days, not weeks.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to underscore that point:
“We did not lead this. We did not engage in unilateral actions in any way, but we strongly support the international community taking action against governments and leaders who behave as Gaddafi is unfortunately doing,” Clinton said.
In addition to the missile attacks, at least 20 French jets have begun enforcing the no-fly zone over Benghazi, already destroying at least one suspected pro-Qaddafi vehicle. More here.
In a statement from Brazil, President Obama said of the intervention:
“I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it . . . I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we can’t stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy.”
Full remarks from the president after the jump:
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Today I authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians. That action has now begun.
In this effort, the United States is acting with a broad coalition that is committed to enforcing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which calls for the protection of the Libyan people. That coalition met in Paris today to send a unified message, and it brings together many of our European and Arab partners.
This is not an outcome that the United States or any of our partners sought. Even yesterday, the international community offered Muammar Qaddafi the opportunity to pursue an immediate cease-fire, one that stopped the violence against civilians and the advances of Qaddafi’s forces. But despite the hollow words of his government, he has ignored that opportunity. His 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.
I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it. I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.
So we must be clear: Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced. That is the cause of this coalition.
As a part of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians, and enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners. And as I said yesterday, we will not — I repeat — we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.
As Commander-in-Chief, I have great confidence in the men and women of our military who will carry out this mission. They carry with them the respect of a grateful nation.
I’m also proud that we are acting as part of a coalition that includes close allies and partners who are prepared to meet their responsibility to protect the people of Libya and uphold the mandate of the international community.
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. But make no mistake: Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world.
Thank you very much.