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Tripoli Under Attack; Loud Gunfire in Tripoli Now; Fierce Fighting Near Rebel Base; Arab League Reaffirms Support; Europe's Role in Libya Mission

Aired March 20, 2011 - 14:15   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to leave the President there in Brazil.

I'm joined right now by Michael Holmes of CNN International, as we reach our audience around the world, in the U.S., and beyond.

And now we understand that while the president is speaking -- and he was just touching on what this revolution that may have been unfolding in various parts of the Middle East, including that of Libya, we're actually going to go to Libya right now, because our international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is there.


Nic, if you've got us there, I'm hearing that you're seeing some action there. What news do you have?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing heavy anti-aircraft gunfire, as we heard last night, and seeing tracer rounds, anti-aircraft tracer rounds, fly up into the sky. This started about two or three minutes ago.

These heavy anti-aircraft fire coming from a similar position that it was coming up from last night, when we heard missiles crash into the city. And as a consequence of that, we saw anti-aircraft gunfire fired up.

We're seeing those same tracers in the last couple of minutes fly up here in that heavy anti-aircraft gunfire. It's gone quiet at the moment. Those guns have stopped shooting at the moment. We can hear some smaller guns firing at this time.


ROBERTSON: Oh, there it goes again. More tracer fire shooting up into the sky, coming from at least a couple of different weapons. It appears there's a couple of different streams going up into the sky as I talk to you here.

HOLMES: Let's just listen, Nic. It appears to have stopped, actually. You could hear it clearly in the background there.

You were saying anti-aircraft fire, so it's outgoing. Is there any indication you've seen of incoming? ROBERTSON: I don't know if you could hear that, but that was the gunfire going up into the sky. You're looking at the skyline now. The gunfire, tracer rounds were flying up over those trees. There they go again.

HOLMES: Nic, I was asking if there's any indication that you've seen of incoming fire to be the cause of that outgoing?

ROBERTSON: I'm not aware of it at the moment. We haven't heard any of those sort of heavy, crashing bangs that we heard last night associated with the incoming missile, but the heavy anti-aircraft gunfire that we're seeing now was fired and appeared to be triggered by an attack last night, perhaps on this anti-aircraft gun position that's firing now.

They believe there is as an attack coming, or one is imminent, and that's why they're firing at this time. But we haven't heard any loud explosions.

The explosions last night were towards the east of the city. There seems to sort of have been two separate attacks within the space of about five minutes last night on the city. At least two or three missiles falling in the east of the city at a military air base along the coastline in the east of the city. We're listening now and we can continue to hear this heavy gunfire going off here.


ROBERTSON: So, at this stage, Michael, it's not clear to us what is exactly being targeted at the moment, but the gunfire is still going off.

HOLMES: Yes. Nic, any sign of anything from the government in the last hour or more?

ROBERTSON: There's no response to this particular incident that we're witnessing right now from the government. We were expecting to hear from an army spokesman and a Foreign Ministry spokesman shortly. But at the moment, that press conference that was outlooked (ph) perhaps a half an hour ago hasn't begun.

I'm not sure if it will be held because of this current situation, but it certainly appears, the way that these anti-aircraft guns are being fired into the sky right now, it certainly appears that this anti- aircraft battery -- and there appears to be perhaps two of them in that direction we're looking -- seem to think that they may come under attack. They seem to think there's something they need to shoot at in the sky right now --- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Nic, I'm wondering if you've been able to ascertain exactly what sort of targets there would be around the capital itself.

Obviously, anti-aircraft in place have been the targets of the initial barrage of missiles that came in from the sea and of some of these aircraft runs by the coalition. Tripoli itself, well-defended, as we know, along the coast there near Tripoli. There's an impressive battle.

ROBERTSON: There's a number of locations around the city that are well-defended. Certainly, around the palace, where we believe Moammar Gadhafi is reported to live, there are defenses there. But -- and there are defenses around the military bases, the military airfield. But in general, there are not many heavy anti-aircraft guns or weapons, or even much military presence deployed in and around the city. Certainly, there are people at checkpoints with AK-47s, but not a heavy military presence -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And Nic, as we go forward here, what is your sense around the city? I know it's been very difficult, and you've mentioned this to us before, about the difficulty of getting any real access to real people, if you like.

Is there any way you've been able to ascertain what the mood there is like, as opposed to where (INAUDIBLE), Benghazi, which, of course, is massively anti-Gadhafi. Are you getting any kind of clue from contacts?

ROBERTSON: Well, the people that we've been able to talk to so far -- and there are people who talk to us here and who tell us of their concerns. People are necessarily supporters of the government, and they tell us of their concerns about the situation.

They're concerned because they're not sure what's going to come next. Their families are scared. Their children are scared. And this gives them a great, great cause for concern. But there are obviously a lot of people here who are strongly behind the government, and they're telling us that this is going to strengthen Moammar Gadhafi's leadership, of people falling in behind him.

But I think the overall feeling we get, that this is not something the county has experienced before. They haven't witnessed -- many people in this city haven't witnessed these type of aerial attacks and the heavy anti-aircraft gunfire, firing up like this, in anything other than celebratory gunfire.

So this is uncharted territory, and people are very nervous about this. It's certainly going to cause a great deal of concern in the city with this anti-aircraft gunfire going off tonight. Even if people don't know why it's being shot, or have not heard any loud explosion, they're going to be very concerned.

HOLMES: And obviously, uncharted territory as well, in terms of the no fly zone and its prosecution, as it unfolds, too. I mean, is it to protect civilians, or is it to support a revolt? Obviously, a lot of questions yet to be answered on that as well in terms of what happens here.

ROBERTSON: Certainly, a lot of questions. I mean, one looks at the way that the army of Moammar Gadhafi, the military, has lined up just outside Benghazi, which (ph) was destroyed during air strikes. We've heard various calls for his army to pull back westward.

We were just now outside the town of (INAUDIBLE) a few days ago, and the army was lined up -- of which parts of the army are left intact, what will be the front line of (INAUDIBLE) and the rebels in the east. Not a bit clear, but certainly the speeches you've had from Moammar Gadhafi have all been about saying that this is a crusader invasion of the country.

And certainly, we've heard from the Arab League the concerned expressed about these air strikes against Libya have given cause for Moammar Gadhafi to feel that he can get back central support that he has been lacking over the past two or three weeks or so, since this all began. And, of course, there's heavy anti-aircraft gunfire right now.

We're now hearing loud explosions. (INAUDIBLE) just the impression that these weapons are shooting into the air give the impression that they are under attack. We just don't know. Anti-aircraft gunfire still goes on at the moment -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, that's a very good point, Nic, whether it's perhaps for a show for the people. We just don't know at the moment.

In the broader picture, some analysis, if you will, I mean, if Gadhafi were to stop in place, no gunfire, no anti-aircraft, no artillery, just stop, where does that leave the coalition? The coalition, presumably, then, would have no reason to continue the no-fly zone, or at least the action. You've got a stalemate, don't you?

ROBERTSON: Potentially. We've heard about the need to bring in humanitarian aid. Certainly in this part of the country, not far from Benghazi, humanitarian aid appears to be what was needed. There's been talk of brining in -- or making sure humanitarian aid was getting through.

The real test for the international community is going to be, are the civilian population safe? Are they being treated well? Are people -- are the people's human rights being respected? And do they have freedom of speech and freedom to voice their either anger at the government or their opposition or concern about the government?

But it's difficult to see how the international community would get (INAUDIBLE) to that, would be able to set thresholds for that in the parts of the country that are certainly controlled by the government. So one can see (INAUDIBLE) trying to sort of extend the no-fly zone into meeting what the U.N. Security Council resolution calls for. It also calls for dialogue. It calls for -- I'm hearing more heavy anti- aircraft gunfire from another location coming in.

WHITFIELD: So, Nic -- Fredricka here -- real quick, you mentioned -- and just kind of resetting for people who are just now beginning to join us. You're in Tripoli right there, where we're hearing the sounds and seeing sights of this anti-aircraft gunfire.

And you talked earlier about, generally, there isn't a heavy military presence right there in Tripoli. However, there would be defenses around the palace, where, presumably, Gadhafi would be. And that there are some military bases. So give us an idea of the proximity of where you are to any of those locations that you mentioned. There would be heavy military defenses, or at least a presence.


WHITFIELD: And if, Nic, if you could reposition yourself one more time, because we're losing your audio.

ROBERTSON: We're about a mile, about a kilometer and a half away from one of the presidential (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: OK. We've almost lost your audio completely.

ROBERTSON: -- or spent some of his time in Tripoli. And we're probably about four or five miles away from the military air bases here on the east of the city -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. That does give us kind of a vantage point about where you are.

Now we're seeing some other images here with a bit more light. I don't know if, Nic, you're able to kind of describe what we're seeing right there. For a second it looked like we saw some vehicles, maybe even some military vehicles being lit up there on the ground.

HOLMES: And then panned up. These pictures coming from Reuters news agency.

Nic, it's interesting, the sustained -- go ahead.

ROBERTSON: These pictures we're looking at here, we're pointing in one direction towards that palace area. I was describing the palace area Moammar Gadhafi uses, about a mile away, and there's other pictures that point to sort of about 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

They're pointing more towards the center of the city and would, perhaps, if there was any explosions on the horizon, on probably what would be the right-hand side of the picture you're looking at, might be able to pick up an explosion if there were one, or an attack on the military air bases, sort of on the eastern edges of Tripoli. So we're looking sort of at these two different cameras. The one you're looking at now, looking more towards the center of the city and the east of the city, towards that military air base, although it's some, probably, four or five miles away. And the camera we were looking at before, pointing towards the palace area about a mile away from us.

WHITFIELD: So interesting, too, Nic, on that Reuters imagery we were just seeing. We saw the one structure. You could also see some lights, vehicles that were driving about. Presumably, it just looked like going about their business on a very -- on a relatively busy evening on the street there. But I wonder if that helps bring us to kind of the behavior of the citizens there in Tripoli over the past 24 hours since these strikes have been under way throughout various parts of Libya. Have people been reticent, been reluctant to get out of their homes because of this kind of uncertainty? Or are they trying to go about their daily lives, at least in the city of Tripoli?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly there's been less traffic on the roads than you would normally expect to see on a Sunday here, but by no means have the roads been deserted. Twenty four hours ago on the streets here before any missiles hit close to Tripoli, there was sort of a party atmosphere.

Fireworks were being fired. People were rallying to the palace. To sort of show support for Moammar Gadhafi, his loyalists were rallying there. After the first round of missile strikes had occurred, people have very much thinned out and there was security on the street and there was perhaps about midnight local time a little before that.

But for the day, there's been plenty of traffic out and about on the streets and this afternoon it's been a very sunny warm day here and the city has not had any attacks during the day. And it would seem that people had felt they could at least get out and about. Obviously some people have been buying provisions, concerned about what's happening.

But we have heard from people that are very concerned about the strikes that have come close to their neighborhood in the east of the city, they're worried about if this is going to impact on them. They haven't been through this. It sounds perhaps it's worth repeating, really, that obviously no one here really knows what to expect at this time.

What to expect from their government, what to expect from the international community and it's that fear of the unknown. That really makes people the most concerned. It's a city of two million people, people with families, obviously. And some of these people have expressed their concerns for us. Even people opposed to this government expressed their fears and concerns to us.

HOLMES: You mentioned the palace area. We've actually got pictures coming in now of Gadhafi supporters we're told, demonstrating, this appearing presumably on state television, Libyan state TV indeed.

On the right of the screen, it's obviously not a very big crowd. On the left of the screen, not sure if the pictures are coming there live or not there have been some remarkably small gatherings there. What's your Intel there, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Well, we certainly know that there's been a rally in Green Square in the center of Tripoli, which just the picture on the left hand side of your screen. And oftentimes, we'll see the rallies shot fairly close up. It gives an impression of a lot of people being there. When in actual time, there are not so many people there. That was perhaps more what you're seeing on the right hand side of the screen there.

That on the right hand side of the screen, you're looking at people that are inside Moammar Gadhafi's palace compound, the one that's about a mile away from here. The building behind them is the building that the United States bombed in 1986 after U.S. servicemen were killed by a terrorist bomb in Germany.

And on the left it does appear to be Green Square. It's not clear to us if these are live pictures. But the government here has gone to a lot of pains in the past few weeks to put up live pictures to try to sort of continually verify in some way that they're live. But it's impossible for us to know just at the moment.

But it's certainly the image, the leadership here wants, the country to see, wants the world to see. I get the impression with the length of time, we've heard the anti-aircraft gun fire, we haven't heard any explosions and these gun fires have been sustained now over quite a period. Intimately, Michael.

HOLMES: You raise an interesting point, too, Nic, and we don't know for sure, but whether such sustained gun fire outgoing like that, could have been more for show for the people. Than as a result of any direct attack.

And you're quite right, the crowd on the right hand side of the screen there from inside the palace, remarkably small and also perhaps a political message going out that the civilians in the palace area, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Well, this is very much the message of the government was wanting to show yesterday. The people were described as protecting the palace here in the one instance and the main international airport in another instance and in Moammar Gadhafi's home city along the coast, about 350 kilometers east of here.

There was also a small gathering of that large international airport there as well. So yes, this is to show the international community that if you try to bomb the locations, there are civilians here, and the government would say these people are here as volunteers.

And certainly the people we saw yet streaming in and out of the palace compound, they didn't appear to be coerced at all. They were loyalist of this government believing of what this government tells them.

Obviously a population of two million in the city, the thousand or so we saw in quite a tiny handful when you add in the other several thousand we saw on the streets in support of the government, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, good, Nic. Appreciate that. We'll leave, but we'll stay in touch as this continues to develop there in Tripoli.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Right and one have to wonder whether those images are a reflection of people who are indeed loyal to Gadhafi or if this is a result of a form of intimidation. Whether people feel they have to be largely in public support of Gadhafi.

HOLMES: Or whether as if Nic was pointing out, almost a human shield, saying there are civilians right outside my palace, just in case you're thinking of anything. WHITFIELD: That's right we're going to move a few hundred miles now east to the city of Benghazi, along the Mediterranean coast there. That's where why find our Arwa Damon.

Arwa, not incredibly quiet in the city of Tripoli. Last we checked with you it was very quiet there in Benghazi. Kind of set the scene on what's taking place there right now.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it still is pretty quiet here although the city remains tense. We've seen an increase in checkpoints all of the shops here by and large are remaining closed following the assault that we saw of Gadhafi's troops taking place yesterday.

People still very much on edge, although greatly reassured by the presence of the air jets we've been hearing overhead, very grateful that the no-fly zone is finally being enforced. Just a short distance outside of the Benghazi, some 20 miles, 30 kilometers out is an area where Gadhafi's military had been massing once again.

Eye witnesses say for another attack. They were pounded by foreign fighter jets. For a distance that stretched for a good few kilometers. We could see the debris, the burnt-out military vehicles. Ranging from SUVs that were being used, to armored personnel carriers. Tanks with their turrets blown off.

We also saw around four or five charred bodies belong doing the Gadhafi forces, eye witnesses were telling us. People are celebrating on top of many of these vehicles expressing their gratitude to the international community for bringing Gadhafi's military machine to a halt.

Just to give you an idea, during the assault by Gadhafi's forces on Benghazi, medical forces say at least 95 people were killed. If the fighter jets had not managed to bring his military machine to a halt, they say they would have seen even more bloodshed, possibly even a bigger massacre taking place, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Arwa Damon, thanks so much, appreciate that from Benghazi.

And when we come back, of course, we're going to have our continuing coverage of all that's taking place in Libya. We're also going to be joined by Little Rock, Arkansas, from General Wesley Clark who's a contributor.

HOLMES: And we'll pop in on Cairo as well. A lot to cover. Stick around.


WHITFIELD: Back to our continuing coverage of the air strikes taking place in Libya. Meantime, in Cairo, the Arab league has had an emergency meeting today. Our Reza Sayah is there in Cairo.

And so initially, Reza, kind of conflicting messages about what was coming out of the Arab league. Not in support of the no-fly zone then suddenly back-pedaling and say, well, we're going to take our time and meet and discuss. No definitive conclusion. So where do they stand right now?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, it took a while for the Arab league to clarify itself. It finally has clarified itself and I think that clarification is making the coalition behind "Operation Odyssey Dawn" breathe a little easier tonight.

With a very brief statement, the Arab league has avoided what could have been a major setback for this operation, for this no-fly zone essentially saying forget about the reports you heard earlier. We do support the no fly zone and let's move forward now with protecting the innocent civilians of Libya.

Earlier today of course, several news agencies reported that the Arab league headed by Secretary-General Mousa were critical of what they've seen in the initial 24 hours of the no fly zone suggesting that it was much too aggressive. Saying -- they only wanted to no fly. These reports quoted Mr. Amre Moussa as saying what's --

WHITFIELD: All right, sorry about that. We're having a difficult time with our signal there. If we're able to reestablish it, we'll try to resume our conversation with Reza Sayah there coming out of Cairo.

HOLMES: All right, I think we've got General Wesley Clark rejoining us for a bit more analysis on what's been going on in Libya in particular. I hope - we do. General, good to see you.


HOLMES: I was talking to Nic Robertson before about the potential outcomes here as anti-aircraft fire was being fired into the air over Tripoli and no sign of anything incoming to actually fire at.

I'm curious about what your analysis would be if Moammar Gadhafi just decided to stop, just decided to not do anything. Don't pull any triggers. What happens? Don't you have a stalemate, a divided country?

CLARK: Well this has always been the dilemma faced by those who are the proponents of the no fly zone. That is to say it might be effective, but it might not really put enough pressure on the ground to make a difference.

Now had it been implemented a few days earlier, maybe more of the opposition could have been protected in different cities, but it seems that we're really protecting the opposition just in the area around Benghazi, OK, so be it. Now this is the time in which the diplomatic forces must be brought to bear.

Principally, the Arab league and I was delighted to hear the report that just gave us on the Arab league support for the no fly zone because it's that kind of pressure that's going to be absolutely essential. To get the right outcome, the coalition must not allow Gadhafi to define this as a battle of called crusaders against the Islamic world.

Nor must he be permitted to show a lot of, and claim a lot of civilian casualties because you can be sure those civilian casualties haven't happened. T here's no guarantee that one missile may not have gone astray.

That some civilian car may not have been driving by a government building when it was struck, but the Tomahawk missiles are extremely accurate. So what has to happen now is sustained political pressure on Gadhafi to fold.

HOLMES: Which he hasn't seem to have been listening to. You're right about the civilian casualties. The Gadhafi regime claiming that it was women, children and clerics who had been killed, which is a pretty wild sort of accusation.

What about your analysis of what happens now with the rebels. Surely the impetus is on them to take advantage to perhaps even move. And if they do move, does the no-fly zone protect them from the Gadhafi forces as they move. Then you're involved with the revolution.

CLARK: I think that's a real problem because as I read you the U.N. Security Council resolution, it does call for a cease-fire. It's one thing to give arms and hope these people can defend themselves. It's another thing to think they could launch real offensive operations in the absence of revolt in Gadhafi's forces.

I think that's doubtful and so I think if they do it, it will become a real murky issue. But one other thing I would say about Gadhafi himself and the stalemate right now is that there's a whole legal channel that should be opened up.

After all, the impetus behind this was his brutality, his excessive use of force against civilians. That's a war crime and under the international criminal court, charges could be investigated and brought. And he could be charged, indicted and he should be.

HOLMES: He doesn't care about that. Does he, General?

CLARK: No, but it does solidify international opinion against him. The basis of all this has to be legal. It's what the British Prime Minister Cameron said yesterday.

You know, the United States, Britain, France, we are nations of international law. We're not might makes right. It was just might makes right, we would have taken out Gadhafi a long time ago. This is about international law.

HOLMES: And what about - OK, let's say that happens and the pressure is applied and is successful. Post Gadhafi, is almost as frightening is it not in a way. It's an extremely tribalistic country. The military is weak in itself. Do you see civil war as a post-Gadhafi future?

CLARK: Well, no one knows at this stage. There is a council. They've been recognized by France. There are former members of the royal family of Libya who are living abroad and some are involved in this movement. There are, of course, tribes there.

There are various people who will claim some stake for the government and hopefully at this very moment, nongovernmental organizations and governmental organizations from the Islamic world and from the west are sorting this out and trying to help them cobble together the kind of arrangements that could transition Libya to a democratic government.

HOLMES: Do you see, and I'm not trying to make a comparison here. But you see the world acting the coalition acting in this situation because Gadhafi was firing on his own people.

In Yemen, in Bahrain, you see regimes firing on their own people. What is the difficult diplomatic balance that needs to be watched when it comes to other countries in the region that are experiencing their own upheaval?

CLARK: Well, I think it's a mistake to try to demand that foreign policy try to be consistent. Yemen, the governments of Yemen and the governments of Bahrain, they have not been terrorist governments. They've not sent terrorist agents to blow up airplanes in the air, for example, as Gadhafi did.

Gadhafi has a long track record of being out of control and although he was rehabilitated by the United States and Britain after he gave up his nuclear pretensions in the last five or six years, still, I mean, Gadhafi is Gadhafi and people understand that.

These other countries are struggling in their own way to come to terms with the demands of their citizenry. They're facing also some other elements that are mixed up in those demands, that are troublesome and difficult.

And what we would hope is that they'll use minimum violence and not use force against their own people. But there's been nothing they've done comparable to what Gadhafi has done. Let's be very clear.

HOLMES: No, not drawing parallel there, but it must be something that's running through the minds of diplomats too when they see governments also firing on people. Your point is of course valid.

I'm curious. One other thing I wanted to ask you about was al Qaeda, particularly al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. They must be hating this because what they're saying particularly in Libya is action being taken against a leader that they don't like and there is Arab involvement.

They want to see Gadhafi gone as much as anyone, but not like this, not with other Arab countries being part of the mix, do they? They want to see a Jihadi-led overthrow.

CLARK: Well, as best as we can determine, the so-called Arab spring caught al Qaeda worldwide off guard. They hadn't expected this and in so far as it results in regime changes or moderations and the development of more democratic institutions, it completely undercuts al Qaeda's thesis that the only way to provide dignity and respect in the Islamic world is through force against the west.

But in this particular case of Libya, we don't really know who's there. There were a lot of people from Libya who went to Afghanistan and found, and went and fought in Iraq as well against the American forces. A lot of the people probably didn't come back, but who knows who is there and what their motivations are.

Until all of this is sorted out, until there's enough stability to really assess what the feelings are among the populace other than relief at having escaped the assault by Gadhafi, we're not going to have a clear understanding of what we're dealing with. At least that's what it looks from the outside.

HOLMES: In going back to Libya, do you see arming the rebels as part of the mandate there? Is it a good idea, anyway?

CLARK: At this point, I would be inclined against it. They've already got a lot of weapons. I'd like to see the organization. I'd like to see it slowed down. I would like to see a structure put up and do some training and set some organization and look at the defense of Benghazi again.

But with a no-fly zone imposed, I would be very surprised if there's anything Gadhafi could do militarily against Benghazi, unless tonight, he tries to infiltrate under the cover of darkness. Apparently, the column of vehicles was moving just before dawn today, and it was detected and struck.

And that's an indication that it's not going to be that easy and in open terrain to get forces from Gadhafi's side into Benghazi. Given that, we should concentrate on the diplomatic piece. Let the coalition handle the no-fly zone. Let the military pressure stabilize and then bring the diplomatic leverage to bear and the international legal pressure to bear to protect civilians in the area and then let's see what happens to Gadhafi.

HOLMES: General Wesley Clark. Always good to get your analysis, thanks so much, sir.

CLARK: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Europe's military role in the Libyan operation, what is it? And what will many of the other nations as part of the coalition, what's their point of view on whether Moammar Gadhafi should stay or go?

HOLMES: Stay with us. We'll be right back with that and more.


HOLMES: Welcome everyone. Europe's military contribution to the operation ongoing in Libya is of course significant. Let's bring in Max Foster who's been live at 10 Downing Street in London for us.

Max, let's talk about the European nations that are taking part, what they are contributing? MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, currently David Cameron in the building behind me is holding a meeting of the "Cobra" emergency committee seeing ministers and also seeing his security and military staff gathering around the table as we understand it.

It's an update really on what's going on in Libya as opposed to another call to action, but of course, we'll bring you details on that as it comes through Britain of course, with France leading on this in Europe. We've also heard that Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, all committing assets to this military operation.

In Libya, all the political leaders in those countries are being very clear. That they are operating within the U.N. mandate as a political mission, that for them as well as a military mission, this for them.

Because for example, William Hague, the foreign minister for the United Kingdom making it very clear they're not going to go beyond the U.N. mandate. They're not going to target Moammar Gadhafi for example.


WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Obviously, we want him to go and almost the whole world wants him to go. It's not possible to see a viable future for Libya with Colonel Gadhafi still there, but the United Nations resolution does not authorize us to insure that.

It authorizes us to protect the civilian population, to have a no fly zone, to enforce an arms embargo and then as I say it's up to the people of Libya to decide their own future.


FOSTER: So, it's very clear that they've a got military operation, but also a political operation here to keep support in this big military operation, Michael.

HOLMES: What sort of level of support are we talking about there? We can't call it a war or even a conflict. What we're talking about is a no-fly zone at the moment. What sort of support is there given everything else that Europe is involved?

FOSTER: We haven't gotten the public surveys coming through yet, of course, because the operation is so fresh. But the feeling is as long as ministers can give the impression this is an international operation, not a European/U.S. operation, a western operation in African country, then they will retain support.

For example, we had the French defense ministry spokesman coming out and saying this today expressing that there is international support particularly from Arab countries.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Qatar has decided to make four planes available in the area to participate in the operation. This illustrates the support, international support to protect the civilian population.


FOSTER: And, Michael, after the "Cobra" meeting, the next mission for the British government will be a debate in parliament tomorrow over this. Certainly, David Cameron expected to get overwhelming support from members of parliament in this military operation. So certainly as far as the U.K. is concerned, there is support.

WHITFIELD: All right, Max and Fredricka here. I'm wondering, you know, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said that the opposition may ultimately need arms, but the U.S. would not commit to providing those arms. Are any of the European Union members or even Great Britain articulating whether they would consider doing that?

FOSTER: They're not articulating that, but certainly just on Friday I was speaking to a former U.N. commander who is a now a conservative member of parliament same party as David Cameron and he is certainly putting pressure on David Cameron to arm the rebels.

He wants to go in very hard. He wants has support from certain back ventures in London, but this is a coalition government and not all back benchers of that coalition do support that. But there is pressure for him to at least think about it.

WHITFIELD: Max Foster, thanks so much. Appreciate that from 10 Downing Street.

We're going to have much more of our coverage of all that's taking place in Libya and then there's that other calamity that's been taking place across the globe in Japan.

We'll update you as well on all that's taking place there. They actually had another serious aftershock today.

HOLMES: Yes, magnitude 6, I think.

WHITFIELD: Right, pretty significant. We'll give you update after this.