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Allied Forces Assessing Damage Done From Nighttime Raids in Libya; Leaders Say This is Only Beginning of Multi-Phase Operation

Aired March 20, 2011 - 03:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fionnuala Sweeney at the CNN Center. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

U.S. officials will be conducting an assessment of the damage done so far in Libya following the start of the coalition operation dubbed Odyssey Dawn.

French fighter jets led the charge on Saturday, firing the fresh shots against Moammar Gadhafi's regime. U.S. and U.K. forces followed suit with more than 100 cruise missile hits.

The Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi is asking people around the world to stand by his regime. Colonel Gadhafi and his supporters call the coalition strike naked aggression by, quote, "barbaric crusaders."

American, British and French forces are enforcing a no-fly zone, approved by the U.N. Security Council this past week. U.S. President Barack Obama says the use of force was necessary, but not the allies' first choice.

Explosions and anti-aircraft fire thundered in the skies above Tripoli early Sunday. It may have been part of another round of cruise missile attacks by allied forces, though that is still unclear.

Nic Robertson was speaking with CNN's Don Lemon as it happened, and here's part of their conversation just earlier.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still going on at the moment, Don. Let me get a little closer. Yeah, you might be able to hear it now.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We can, we can. Let's listen a bit, Nic.

ROBERTSON: That's the sounds of heavy anti-aircraft gunfire erupting over the city of Tripoli here. We heard it sporadically several hours ago. Now hearing it much more in a much more sustained fashion.

LEMON: Nic, if I can just jump in here for a second -- I am going to to let you continue. I want to tell our viewers, Nic Robertson is in Tripoli,.

He's reporting he's hearing heavy gunfire and what's possibly -- probably artillery fire. You're also looking at live pictures now from Tripoli. This is from the camera in the location where Nic Robertson is. Nic Robertson, continue, please.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, hearing these --the loud gunfire and explosions in the city. This gunfire seems to have followed on from several loud explosions which could have been missile explosions.


SWEENEY: -- for at least some people in Tripoli. CNN's Wolf Blitzer got a firsthand account from one woman there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was asleep when suddenly we heard a huge explosion. And I need to remind you I am somewhere near the main military base in Tripoli. It's called Mitiga (ph). And it's the main air base that we have here in Tripoli.

I tried to run up to the roof and then I saw the second explosion. I saw a huge fire coming up from that place. And there was a lot of noise. And I can hear some shooting. I can't decide whether it's anti-aircraft shooting or gunfire shooting. It was very severe, very heavy.

As I was going downstairs, I heard the third explosion. And what was even much scarier than all this and what's happening is what's happening until now from -- I heard the explosion is a lot of cars trying to march to central Tripoli. And from time to time, we hear them coming out from the windows. And they start shooting guns in civilian neighborhoods.

So I'm assuming that Gadhafi had been sending people to go to central areas and try to prove that he's still in command. This is putting terror in all neighborhoods.


SWEENEY: A young woman speaking to Wolf Blitzer earlier.

Well, on Saturday in Paris, world powers held a high-level meeting about how to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said Washington is resolute in its efforts to protect civilians.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So let me just underscore the key point: this is a broad international effort. The world will not sit idly by while more innocent civilians are killed.

The United States will support our allies and partners as they move to enforce Resolution 1973. We are standing with the people of Libya. And we will not waver in our efforts to protect them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SWEENEY: As you can imagine, Colonel Gadhafi sees things differently. He's vowing to defend Libya and says he will open up weapons depots to his people. Gadhafi called on other Islamic nations to stand by him. He spoke on Libyan state television soon after the allied attacks began.


MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): Libya will exercise its right to defend itself according to Section I of the United Nations Charter. That all targets -- maritime targets will be exposed to real danger in the Mediterranean -- were the Mediterranean and North Africa. Because of this aggression -- naked aggression, and this irresponsible action. It's a war zone.


SWEENEY: Libyan officials say the strikes are harming civilians. State television is airing these pictures which are said to show people injured by the coalition attacks. CNN can't confirm the report.

Earlier, Libyan TV also ran what it called an official statement from the Libyan military. It said the attacks had killed 48 people and injured more than 150. The statement claims most of the casualties were women, children, and religious clerics, and that the strikes hit public areas, hospitals and schools.

Again, we can't independently confirm those numbers.

Let's look at the countries leading the effort. France's Mirage and Rafaela Fighter Jets are currently enforcing the no-fly zone. The Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier leaves the Mediterranean port of Toulon Sunday. And a refueling tanker is on standby.

The U.K. is deploying Typhoon Petrol Jets, their all-weather Tornado Attack Aircraft, and air to air refueling and surveillance planes.

The U.S. won't disclose its operations, but has five combat ships in the Mediterranean, including a guided missile destroyer.

Canada is sending CF-18 Fighter Jets. It also has a warship on standby off Libya's coast.

Let's go now to CNN's Barbara Starr for more on the coalition's damage assessment in Libya.

BARBARA STARR, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think at first light now over Libya, there will begin to be this assessment of the damage caused by the initial strikes. Did they get the Libyan air defenses, the radars, the communications facilities, those surface to air missile sites that the Libyans manned, that could bring down no- fly zone aircraft?

They're going to have to look at all of that and decide how much of it across this coastline of Libya they got, how much of it is destroyed, and when it will be safe for pilots to begin to fly over Libya in this no-fly zone configuration.

But, you know, it's really interesting. You've seen both sides rapidly put their cards on the table here. The coalition side going for these very precise, unmanned cruise missiles to go after these targets. And look on the other side of your screen, the Libyans with their ground weapons in Tripoli putting up anti-aircraft fire, tracer fire, which isn't so dangerous, but making a very public show of their force and really making the point that they are in the cities; they are where the civilian populations are.

And they're going to make it very tough on the coalition to move into any additional phase of coming after their ground forces.

SWEENEY: Spain also plans to send fighter planes, a refueling plane, a submarine and a maritime surveillance plane to help enforce the no- fly zone.

For a better understanding of what the no-fly zone over Libya really means, let's turn to Shashank Joshi. He's an associate fellow at RUSI. That's the Royal United Services Institute. He joins from us CNN's London bureau.

Thank you very much. From what we know of the military operations over the last 24 hours or so, how would you assess how they're going?

SHASHANK JOSHI, ASSOCIATE FELLOW, RUSI: Well, this is the predictable, stable phase of the operations in which coalition of forces are simply paving the way for clearing Libya's skies. That's the no-fly zone. And it will probably go very smoothly.

There may be civilian casualties, but Libya's air defenses are comfortably manageable. The problem however is this U.N. resolution allows much more than just that. It is an expansive resolution allowing attacks on ground targets.

So the question is how effective and clinical will those be? And how effective will they be in driving Gadhafi's forces out of the eastern cities? That question won't be answered until much later today or tomorrow.

SWEENEY: You think even that soon?

JOSHI: Excuse me?

SWEENEY: You think that this question might be answered wind the next 12 hours or so?

JOSHI: We've certainly already seen initial French attacks on ground forces. Some of those attacks were symbolic. Clearly the French were interested in leading this operation from the front.

But I think the coalition powers will be aware, the longer they leave it, the more Colonel Gadhafi's armor and infantry can filter into urban areas where they are harder and harder to hit. The delay between passing this resolution and taking action has already generated massive challenges because Gadhafi has moved so far into cities like Benghazi.

SWEENEY: As you know, the U.N. mandate itself didn't call for regime change. The U.S. has called for that, for example. Can this no-fly zone, however, be separated or made distinct from the question of the future of the Gadhafi regime?

JOSHI: Well, the no-fly zone can be imposed in isolation. All that will do is afford some measure of bombardment from the sky. You still require attacks on ground forces to really protect civilians.

But you're quite right to note we're getting mixed signals. Is the intention merely to establish a buffer zone around Benghazi and therefore contain Colonel Gadhafi? Or is it to make sure that containment doesn't last indefinitely via regime change?

If regime change is the objective, it can't be done through the rebels who are not yet militarily viable. So the only option is to take the gamble and put incredible pressure on the regime in Tripoli, with the hope that it crumbles.

That is, however, at this point just a gamble.

SWEENEY: And why -- it may seem an obvious question -- is it such a gamble? How depleted or indeed how well-resourced is Colonel Gadhafi to face this kind of no-fly zone? How will this deter his ability to move around, for example, Libya?

JOSHI: Firstly, he's extremely resilient. He has been restricted in a number of key ways. He can no longer move important forces on open road between cities. He can no longer use his aircraft, and therefore he can't use airlift to ferry troops from one place to the other.

But what he can continue to do is maintain his grip on Tripoli. He's circled his compound with human shields. He's retained troops loyal to his command.

So we see in Iraq, for example, how Saddam Hussein could hang on for 12 years under a no-fly zone and an oil embargo. Why do we assume Colonel Gadhafi will instead collapse within weeks?

SWEENEY: Is it possible, a final question, if I may, that we're looking at a kind of protracted situation, not unlike perhaps something like I'm thinking of Cyprus, where it's divided, as you know, between the Turkish part and Greek separate part?

JOSHI: Certainly. Many of these conflicts in the past, even humanitarian interventions, have resulted in a frozen stalemate or de facto partition. In Kosovo -- in Serbia, Kosovo was carved out. In Iraq, two areas were separated from the main rump of Iraq.

Here that's unlikely to happen because the rebels will consolidate their strength and push outwards. They want to see a unified Iraq under their control. So partition, a la Cyprus, isn't really a stable equilibrium.

SWEENEY: Shashank Joshi in London, thanks very much for that analysis. >

Well, it is daylight in Libya. People there getting their first look at the damage done by the allied air strikes. Straight ahead, we'll be talking to the author Christopher Dickey about the situation in Libya, and bringing, of course, you the latest updates in our continuing coverage. This is WORLD REPORT.


SWEENEY: Recapping the latest from Libya; U.S. officials will conduct a damage assessment of Libyan sites struck thus far. They say about 20 air and missile defense targets have been attacked in western portions of the country.

Fighter jets and missiles from the U.S., Britain, and France began Operation Odyssey Dawn on Saturday. the first phase of their enforcement of a new U.N. no-fly zone. Washington says the coalition mission launched on Saturday is aimed at keeping the Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi's regime from using force against its own people.

The defiant Colonel Gadhafi calls it naked aggression.

France lobbied hard for action in Libya. The French fighter jets carried out the first strike against Gadhafi's military forces. Let's go live to Paris now.

Senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman is standing by. And he's joined by Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor for "Newsweek."

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Fionnuala. Good morning. In fact, the strikes continued overnight, as you pointed out. I've got Chris Dickey here.

Chris, you were in Libya the last time that the west took action against Colonel Gadhafi. What was that like?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": Yes, a long time ago, 1986. But, in fact, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from that. One of the big lessons is, if you're going to attack him, you better take him out.

One of the things that happened after 1986 is that Gadhafi's proxies attacked U.S. and U.K forces and civilians in Khartoum, in Cypress, in Naples, and, of course, finally Pan Am 103.

So you don't have the idea that this guy is intimidated and he pulls in his horns and everything's going to be fine. If he's not taken out, then we're going to see a lot of Libyan terrorism for the foreseeable future. The question is who's going to take him out? You can't to that from the air.

BITTERMAN: This is an interesting point. Because, in fact, the coalition was assembled on the idea of going to the support of the rebels in the east of Libya.

DICKEY: The civilians. Here's a big question: what happens if and when the civilians actually start to fight Gadhafi's forces? Is the west going to defend them? Or is it going to sit back and say, well, no, there's nothing we can do? And then let Gadhafi's tanks and artillery attack them? This is one of the big question marks.

BITTERMAN: How difficult is it for the coalition, just using air power, no ground troops, to separate out? There's going to be a lot of collateral damage, civilians and fighters.

DICKEY: It can't separate the civilians from the fighters. Also I can remember in 1986, you would have thought that only civilians were bombed by Reagan's air force in those days, because that's where we were all taken. That's where the press was taken, escorted around.

Let's see more civilian casualties. Sometimes you could look over a wall and see there was a military installation right next door. But that's the game that's played.

It's just like Gadhafi said, he lost an adopted daughter when his barracks were bombed. We never knew about this adopted daughter until she was dead.

We are dealing with a crazy regime that's capable of doing almost anything.

BITTERMAN: How overly optimistic is it for the west to believe that just a few air attacks are going to lead to Gadhafi's downfall?

DICKEY: Well, it all depends on the Libyan people now. It really does. The air attacks are not going to bring Gadhafi down. What they could do is separate Libya into two or three or more provinces, create little mini states there that are protected by western power.

Nobody wants that. Gadhafi's not going to come down until two things happen: the people in Tripoli rise up against him -- and that doesn't look imminent -- but the other thing that has to happen is that the rebels or the civilians or the protesters or whatever they are now have to retake the oil-producing area in that trough there at the bottom of the Gulf of Sidra.

That's where the fighting will have to take place. Ras Leneuf, Brega, these places they were driven out of in the last week they have to retake. Allied forces can't do that for them. They can protect them from the air but they're not going to go in on the ground.

BITTERMAN: A lot depends on the will of those --

DICKEY: Everything depends on the will of the Libyan people. If the Libyan people sit back and say, it's too late, we're beat, we tried, it's over, that's it.

BITTERMAN: Very good. Chris Dickey, thank you very much. Fionnuala?

SWEENEY: All right. Jim Bitterman, thank you too. We'll be heading to Japan when WORLD REPORT returns. We'll tell you about the latest problems at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Complex. That's just ahead.


SWEENEY: Time to find out what's happening in Japan. Natalie Allen has our coverage for us. Natalie?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Fionnuala, thanks very much.

Japan got more unsettling news out of its crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Complex today. The nation's nuclear safety agency revealed the pressure in the containment vessel of reactor number three at the Daiichi Nuclear Plant is increasing. Officials say they're planning an operation to reduce that pressure.

Meantime, a super pumper is trying to keep the reactor cool as engineers struggle to restore power to cooling systems at the plant.

All the while, the search continues for more than 12,000 people still listed as missing after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. The death toll is now up to almost 8,200.

Many people have fled the areas surrounding the nuclear power plant. That includes those who worked there. As Stan Grant reports, these people in particular have no idea what their future holds.


STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks a forbidding place, a heavy black sky and waves slapping into the rocks. Flashing lights warn planes there's a nuclear power plant here.

It isn't Fukushima. It's Kigiwazaki (ph), clear across the island on Japan's west coast. But it's here evacuated workers from the stricken Daiichi plant have found refuge, a haunting reminder of that day a little over a week ago when the ocean floor cracked open and a wave of water turned their lives upside down.

It was a moment this worker will never forget.


GRANT: Earthquake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It kept going for two or three minutes. I told everyone to get out of here. I was scared.

GRANT: He doesn't want to be identified. What he has to say, he fears, could cost him his job. For 17 years, he says, he has worked for the Tokyo Electric Power Company at the now-crippled plant. He worries especially about the spent fuel rods in the stricken reactor number four, potentially in a pool drained of water.

Very, very dangerous, he says. He sees the fires and explosions and the damage and asks himself, are his bosses hiding something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): If you watch TV, they say they are sharing the facts. But I doubt it. And right now they say they are taking readings within 20 or 30-kilometer radius. But I hope they expand that.

Personally, I have doubts about what they are telling us.

GRANT: This is just one man's opinion. And officials in Japan assure people that radiation levels are not harmful. But this worker knows intimately the Daiichi plant, its design and its people. And he fears the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm aware everyone, the Japanese government, the IAEA and Self Defense Force is trying hard to get this problem fixed. But I'm not sure. I hope -- I really hope things will go better, or at least not get any worse.

GRANT: This father of two young children thought he'd lost everything when the quake struck. His eyes tear up as he tells me how, for six hours, he lost all phone contact, how he held his family tight when he finally made it home.

Now he wonders if he can ever feel safe in Fukushima again, if he is putting his children at risk.

But where will he work? The Daiichi plant is all he knows. His is an uncertain life. For now, home is a relief shelter in the shadow of another nuclear plant.

(on camera): In a place like this, how can the Fukushima workers and their families ever forget their fears, what they've been through and what may lie ahead?

(voice-over): These are dark days for japan. But if there's one light for this one man, he is alive and he has his family close.

Stan Grant, CNN, Kashiwazaki (ph), Japan.


ALLEN: So much uncertainty in Japan even revolving around the weather. After a brief warm-up, colder temperatures are set to return to northeastern Japan now. Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is watching that story for us.

ICAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Natalie, the good thing is that the cold temperatures are not going to come with snow. We had significant accumulation across the region there. And that's pretty unusual now that we're getting into spring here.

But we have warned up, although we are going to cool down the next couple of days. Let's show you the temperatures here. We're running generally in the mid-teens. We have reached up to 60 degrees or 50s in Fahrenheit, very comfortable here.

We have clear skies across the region. But now an area of low pressure is moving in and a frontal boundary. You can see cloud cover in the Sea of Japan rushing from west to east. That is going to come in with some heavy weather for Tokyo as well. We're going to see bouts of heavy rain moving in and also some higher- elevation snowfall. But this time around, the snow levels are going to be quite high here. So we don't have to worry about Sendai to much, as I see it right now.

Rain will be the rule as temperatures will be in the mid and upper single digits.

Now, reactor three -- we've been talking about that, perhaps the pressure too high now, needing to vent some of that radioactive steam. We have a concern with that now because we have had a north westerly or offshore flow, right, blowing any radioactive steam or anything that's on the ground here to the Pacific.

Well, now we have an onshore flow. And whatever is coming out of that plant is going to be blown right into the populated areas here. So this is what happens with surface winds. Unlike the upper-level winds, these change with frontal passages and with areas of low or high pressure.

So now we're going to get this onshore flow. In fact, eventually we're going to get a bit of a northeast wind. Kind of worst case scenario here because things will be blowing down towards Tokyo.

So we'll watch that rather closely here. We have been talking about that, and we're certainly running out at this point of time across the region as far as that beneficial offshore flow. Now we're getting onshore flow.

Look at this, Fionnuala, just incredible stuff here as far as how many tremors we've had since the 9.0, two of which have been major earthquakes here. That happened, of course, right after the original quake. But we're up to almost 300 in the 5.0 range here We're clocking upwards of 600. Not too unusual here. We generally have the tremors that continue for weeks at a time, sometimes months indeed.

We'll keep you posted on that aspect as well. Fionnuala?

SWEENEY: Still Very significant wind ones at the higher elevations there, 6.9. Thanks very much indeed, Ivan. That's it for this edition of WORLD REPORT. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney at CNN Center. I'll be back with the headlines after a short break.