Gotta love the French. Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off the air strikes on Libya with a bang on Saturday:
Les peuples arabes ont choisi de se libérer de la servitude dans laquelle ils se sentaient depuis trop longtemps enfermés. L’avenir de ces peuples leur appartient, ils ont besoin de notre aide et de notre soutien, c’est notre devoir. Une population civile se trouve en danger de mort. Le combat qu’elle mène est la sienne. C’est au nom de la conscience universelle qui ne peut tolérer de tels crimes que nous intervenons… La France est décidée à assumer son rôle devant l’Histoire.
This translates roughly as :
The Arab peoples have chosen to liberate themselves from the slavery in which they have long felt imprisoned. Their future is before them, they need our aid and support, this is our duty. A civilian population finds itself in deadly peril. The war that threatens them is waged by their own. It is in the name of universal conscience, which cannot tolerate such crimes, that we intervene… France has decided to assume her role before History.
The French newspaper Le Figaro has a site with regular updates on the events underway across the Mediterranean. A few nuggets from today’s haul :
6 :55 PM (all times France). French air forces destroyed several of Qaddafi’s armored vehicles outside Benghazi.
6 :28 PM. The fighter aircraft that was shot down [presumably from the now-viral video] was an aircraft being used by the opposition and was shot down in error. [Note : the Fox reporter says the fighter was shot down by AAA fire from the ground ; this would seem to indicate the insurgents are using AAA guns. The French will want to ensure excellent coordination with them if that’s the case.]
6 :25 PM. The African Union is putting together a negotiating team to meet with Qaddafi, and could be in Tripoli by Monday.
5 :48 PM. France is using about 20 aircraft for the initial strikes. [Other sources identify them as Rafale strike-fighters from the French air force.] The aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle will arrive on station off Libya on Sunday. [Note : Charles de Gaulle typically carries 2-3 squadrons of strike-fighters, or 24-30. USS Enterprise (CVN-65) has 4 squadrons of F/A-18s, 3 of the F-variant Superhornet and 1 of the C-variant Hornet. The normal complement of strike-fighters for a US carrier is 48-50 total.]
5 :40 PM. Libyan state television stated that hundreds of Libyan civilians were gathered at Qaddafi’s headquarters in Tripoli in advance of the enemy air strikes. State television said the crowds were assembled around the targets that had been designated by France for air strikes. [Note : obviously a warning that the civilians were to function as human shields. Qaddafi was assuming his command facilities were to be targeted, but there is no evidence so far that they have been. The reported strikes have been around Benghazi.]
5 :28 PM. Besides the air activity, which would commence soon, a naval blockade has been imposed against Libya, according to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
5 :17 PM. Five French aircraft – an AWACS (airborne warning and control aircraft), and 2 Rafale and 2 Mirage fighters – were operating over Libyan territory. [Note : this was the first indication of French fighters being over Libya.]
4 :22 PM. Italian reconnaissance aircraft were operating over Libya. Italy reiterated that her contribution would be primarily offering airfields to support fighter operations. [Note : Italy is not expected to join the air strikes.] Six Danish F-16s had arrived at Sigonella, a major US-NATO air base in Sicily. American aircraft were reportedly to arrive there sometime later on Saturday.
« Notre determination est totale, » said Sarkozy. Our determination is total.
8:36 PM. First explosions seen near Tripoli by eyewitnesses interviewed by AFP [French press agency]. [Note: these probably correlate to the US Tomahawk missile strikes announced at about 3:35 PM EDT in the US media. This would represent the first attacks outside of the Tripoli area and presumably indicate attacks on Libyan national air defense assets.]
9:05 PM. David Cameron has announced that British forces have entered combat in Libya. [This may mean a British submarine or destroyer launched some of the Tomahawks. The French air commander would presumably know if British fighters were operating in Libyan airspace.]
9:06 PM. Libyan television announced that “civilian targets” were hit by enemy bombs.
From the Pentagon brief (by Admiral Bill Gortney): The Libyan operation will be called “Odyssey Dawn” and will be commanded by the Commander, US Africa Command, Army General Carter F. Ham. [The Africa Command HQ is in Stuttgart, Germany; it is not clear whether a contingent will deploy forward for this operation (perhaps to Italy?).] The Naval component of Africa Command, Commander US
Sixth Fleet Naval Forces Africa/Europe ( Vice Admiral Sam Locklear), is coordinating the naval operations from the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), one of the Navy’s two remaining fleet command ships, which is permanently assigned to the Mediterranean (homeported in Gaeta, Italy).
112 Tomahawks were launched at about 25 air defense targets on 19 March.
[Note: It’s good to finally see something from US authorities on all this, but we really seem to be backing into the whole thing. Gee, we’re in command – who knew?? The incredible thing is that the media are letting the Obama administration get away with this disorganized pick-up game. Where was Bob Gates? Where was Admiral Mullen? Why haven’t we heard from General Ham? We’re in command of this operation, and the press is satisfied to hear a few details about a Tomahawk salvo, when the French are bombing Benghazi, there’s a naval blockade offshore, and a dozen other nations are supposedly sending assets?]
10:12 PM. Libyan television claims an enemy aircraft was shot down by Qaddafi’s air defense forces near Tripoli.
10:21 PM. France’s general staff assures reporters that all of the French combat aircraft had departed Libyan airspace before the “shoot-down” claimed by Libyan state TV. [Note: France is calling its national operation – a contributing effort in Odyssey Dawn – “Harmattan.” Figaro quotes the top military authorities as summarizing today’s activities by the French air force and implying that there will be no additional operations before the 20th.]
As of about 9:30 PM EDT. The French combat aircraft returned to base for the day several hours ago. British Tornado strike-fighters just launched Storm Shadow air-to-surface missiles at targets in Libya within the last half hour. The Pentagon has upped the number of Tomahawk missile strikes from 112 to 114, and Fox’s reporter in Tripoli spoke within the last couple of hours of hearing explosions that were assessed to be cruise missile strikes. Those were probably the latest Tomahawk hits.
The actual “no-fly zone” has not been established at this point, given that there is no evidence of a continuous-enforcement regime (e.g., combat air patrol with fighters on-call for immediate reaction). The coalition attacks up to now have been to neutralize Qaddafi’s air defenses and hinder his operations against Benghazi. That said, it should be clear to Qaddafi that if he uses his own attack aircraft when there’s no one around to shoot them down, there will be retribution.
Qaddafi may fix his hopes on the intervention of the African Union delegation (see above), which is to arrive on Monday.
Note: A reader at Hot Air points out that Admiral Locklear is a 4-star and is Commander Naval Forces Europe/Africa, not COMSIXTHFLT. Correction made above. (Full disclosure: ADM Locklear was my boss in the USS Nimitz battle group from 2002 to 2004, so I should definitely not have misfired on that one…)