Under U.N. Authority the Powers Act in Libya: Report from Britain

Today, after the coalition meeting in Paris on Saturday, action was immediately taken to use force against the Gaddafi regime forces. Coalition leaders made clear they did not believe Gaddafi’s promise of a cease-fire and reports were clear that attacks continue against the rebel-held positions. The first acts were against tanks in Benghazi and Libyan regime anti-air and command facilities.  Coalition leaders have called this a “multi-phased” operation. Coalition forces include U.K., France, U.S., Italy, and Canada.

As this is written from London, French fighter jets are over Libya hitting Gaddafi’s tanks and military.  French and British recognizance flights are over Libyan areas. It was reported that 20 French Mirage warplanes were over Libya. Under operation “Odyssey Dawn” some 100-112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launch by the coalition (largely the U.S. and U.K.) at Libyan targets. However, Libya has several hundred SAM anti-aircraft missiles.

In London tonight, Saturday, after the Emergency COBRA Committee, Cameron said that British forces are in action;  British fighters are now in action as night falls here in Europe. He ended saying: “What we are doing is necessary, it is legal, and it is right.”  He gained the support of both the Liberal Democrats in his coalition and of the opposition Labor Party leadership.

American aircraft has arrive in England and will move from those bases towards closer airfields to Libya to take part in the action.  It appears that certain American assets were in on the initial strikes (or “leading edge” as put by DOD spokesman) but with American participation phasing down and other taking the lead in the days ahead.  America has noted that others will be taking the lead on the ground and America will not go not beyond the defined U.N. goals.  Obama made clear American troops will not be on the ground.

Both the President and Secretary Clinton have said the reason for this initial leadership is due to our unique capabilities.  Obama, in a Saturday radio message, reaffirmed American action and noted that Gaddafi continues attacks and that dangers grow.  He noted the dangers of the use of force, and said U.S. can’t stand idly by where innocent man and woman face death.  He added that actions have consequences, and in the cause of this coalition to be on the front end to protect civilian population.

American submarines/naval ships are entering waters close to Libya and have contributed to Tomahawk missiles being launched into Libya.  A  French aircraft carrier will arrive in Libyan waters on Sunday.

On Sunday there will be an assessment of the attacks, the position of Gaddafi after getting these hits an in the end an judgement of what more needs to be done and how especially creating the condition of a safe no-fly zone.

People here in London are asking what the consequences are in the end of this action.  In the first case it shows that the U.N. can act but only in a situation of extreme massive brutality and with the full unity of most Western parties and the Arab League nations. It is an action taken after the U.N. supported the principle “to protect.”

The second issue is to what extent is this action just focused on protecting the civilian populations, but with a clear desire by all involved to get rid of Gaddafi and his regime. Mot recognize the end game has to be the removal of Gaddafi if peace is to be secured.   People are also concerned about “collateral damage” to civilians, especially if the conflict continues for a long period.

This action has in a fundamental way the Middle East landscape with consequences that are not at all clear.  Other countries in the Middle East are watching –some with concern and even fear– while others it is with hope. Will there be upheavals in other nations? Will we see the spread of democracy and reform?  Will instability in the region be with us for a long time?  My own view is that we will see a series of major changes and more unrest in the Arab streets for a long period. But we also have an opportunity if we act with swiftly in civilian help as we have acted in a military mode.

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