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War Planes Carry Out Strikes in Libya; U.S., Britain, France Enforcing No-Fly Zone
Aired March 20, 2011 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes, you are watching our special worldwide coverage of the conflict in Libya.
WHITFIELD: A Pentagon briefing on coalition military strikes in Libya is set to begin at any moment in the states. We will bring that to you live when it happens. Meantime, here is what is happening right now in Libya.
HOLMES: A Libyan Army spokesman says that the country's armed forces have ordered an immediate ceasefire. That comes after the Americans, the French, British military forces launched "Operation Odyssey Dawn," a U.N.-approved mission intended to stop the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from violating a ceasefire and attacking his own people.
WHITFIELD: Multiple air and missile strikes have hit Libyan military targets since the operation began 24 hours ago. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said most of Gadhafi's air defense systems and airfields have been taken out. Libyan ground forces have been hit and a no-fly zone is in effect. Gadhafi called the coalition nations "the new Nazis" and he is vowing to fight back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOICE OF MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We will be victorious. We will achieve victory on behalf of the people. We have Allah with us. You have the devil on your side.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: And that is just some of the anti-aircraft fire we heard coming from inside Tripoli two hours ago as we were talking to Nic Robertson.
WHITFIELD: Right after that, word came about the ceasefire coming from the Libyan army, but of course there have been conflicting reports as to whether the army, whether the Gadhafi government as a whole is embracing what one spokesperson said that there would be ceasefire that would have started about an hour ago and of course, the U.S. military and the coalition nations are now saying this is a wait and see.
HOLMES: Yes, indeed it is. You know there are a lot of nations enforcing the United Nations no-fly zone mandate over Libya. You got the United States and Britain flying jets and warplanes during this weekend's air strikes, missiles - from ships both those nations hit Libyan targets as well. Aircraft also coming from many countries, including France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway and a couple of others in the wings that the coalition would like to see involved and that is Qatar as well.
We have the Pentagon briefing coming up in the minutes ahead, or in this hour and we're going to bring it to you live and Chris Lawrence is standing by with analysis as well.
All right. We are going to take a short break now.
WHITFIELD: All right. We want to take you straight to the U.S. Pentagon for that briefing right now.
VICE ADM. BILL GORTNEY, DIRECTOR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for being here today. I want to take just a few minutes to update you on our military operations in Libya and then I would be very happy to take your questions. As you know, we began our enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 yesterday, with cruise missile strikes on selected air defense systems and facilities, as sure as well as air defense command and control infrastructure.
I reported yesterday that coalition forces launched more than 110 Tomahawk missiles from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean. That number eventually rose to a total of 124 in the hours after I briefed you. We judge these strikes to have been very effective and significantly degrading the regime's air defense capability to include their ability to launch many of their SA-5, which are the long-range surface-to-air missiles, the SA-3s and SA-2s.
The slide at my left shows a rough depiction of where these additional strikes were executed. The initial strikes that I briefed you yesterday are highlighted in yellow and the strikes after I briefed you are in red. There has been no new air activity -
HOLMES: We're just going to interrupt the briefing there you can see on the right of your screen there gunfire. It is anti-aircraft fire actually going up into the skies over Tripoli. Nic Robertson is there and he is going to tell us what he is seeing.
Nic, is this the same you are seeing before or more sustained?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we are hearing here, Michael and Fredricka -
(INAUDIBLE) No, Michael, this is different, this is more different (INAUDIBLE) the anti-aircraft fire but also heard a couple of very (INAUDIBLE) explosions. One explosion (INAUDIBLE) the building that we were in here. (INAUDIBLE) anti-aircraft gunfire (INAUDIBLE) into the sky there. This does appear to have been in response to a missile strike of some kind on the ground here, probably two strikes is what we think.
We certainly heard two what we believe are two explosions. One of them came right in the middle of all that anti-aircraft gunfire and you could actually feel, where we were, you could feel some of the percussion, reverberation coming from a quite heavy explosion sort of in the distance under the trees where our camera is pointed right now, Michael.
HOLMES: Yes, Nic, give us a sense of the geography, where you are, what's around you and what might have been a target.
ROBERTSON: (INAUDIBLE) precisely what might have been the target here. But looking in the general direction toward one of the palaces that's used by Moammar Gadhafi, one of the largest palace complex and that sounds to us as if that was (INAUDIBLE) explosion came from. This is the same place this we have seen repeatedly, you see the (INAUDIBLE) American aircraft. A couple of Moammar Gadhafi statements in the past 24 hours. This seems to have been at least one explosion from that direction. What we are not looking at, we were looking at before, a view from the upper side of the building, east of the city (INAUDIBLE) this strike, perhaps a mile and a half from our location we believe and would be in the general area of one of Moammar Gadhafi's palaces.
Right now the anti-aircraft gunfire seems to have subsided but all came up very, very quickly, a little more there right now. It all came up very, very quickly, perhaps 10 minutes (INAUDIBLE) before the Pentagon briefing began. The sound of one heavy explosion, heavy anti-aircraft fire and another explosion very much in the sequencing we heard in the middle of the night last night, Michael.
HOLMES: It sounds sustained. I'm wondering, we just pause and listen and see, give people a sense of what's happening there, Nic.
ROBERTSON: Well, what we are hearing in the background is some small machine gun fire, more off in the distance. (INAUDIBLE) Anti-aircraft gunfire comes up, you see traces in the sky, very, very heavy (INAUDIBLE) but unlike the anti-aircraft fire we heard perhaps two hours ago this seemed to be (INAUDIBLE) this was because there were two very loud explosions, possibly incoming missiles, those seem to be anti-aircraft gunfire responding to a strike in the city, probably closer to us, I would say than the explosions we heard last night.
But again, we don't know exactly where these explosions are located and exactly what the target may be, Michael.
HOLMES: In terms of what might be a valid target, given the mandate, the U.N. resolution, would a palace be in - under that umbrella? One's not sure.
ROBERTSON: It's a very large palace complex. And the mandate, as we understand it, is to protect the civilians and enforce a no-fly zone and we have heard from American military commanders amongst others that in order to enforce a no-fly zone that radar installations would need to be targeted, air defense systems would need to be targeted and communication systems would also be interrupted, jammed, as we were told earlier.
So, is there equipment of that type being targeted right now? One would assume that it is. Is it located in that palace compound? We don't know. We are not aware. And is that palace compound the actual target. Again, we don't know. It is just the general location from where we're located, Michael.
HOLMES: It is one of the things isn't it, Nic, when you look at the interpretation of the resolution and as it outlines the protection of civilians, you wonder whether you can interpret that in many ways, whether that also makes command and control a viable target, a valid target under the resolution and what then would concentrate command and control. I mean, could to be the government?
ROBERTSON: It could possibly be. It's not clear to us that's what it is. This strike and this action does seem to come very hard on the heels, barely an hour ago when we heard from the - a military spokesman here said the country was going on an immediate ceasefire and we heard from chief of defense staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, saying that the actions taken by the coalition would be dependent on what Moammar Gadhafi's forces did in the field.
We heard from the military spokesman here saying that the ceasefire had gone into place this missile strike is that indicative of the fact that a coalition at the moment believe there is not a ceasefire in place? Is that why this strike has happened or is this part of that basket of targets that fall into the command and control, fall into the air defense system that commanders would say would necessarily need to be rendered inoperative for a no-fly zone to be safely enforced here, Michael.
WHITFIELD: So I wonder, Nic, Fredericka here, if the sound of that anti-aircraft blast that you heard about an hour ago, does it seem as though it is the same proximity of the new blast, the new gunfire that you are hearing at this hour?
ROBERTSON: Well, I have just been handed a note here by my producer, Tommy Evans and he has talked to somebody else who can see further than I can from this particular balcony and what he is telling me is there is smoke seen rising from Moammar Gadhafi's palace complex, the one I was just describing to you, the one we have seen several times in the speeches over the last couple of days, same place where U.S. bombs targeted that compound in 1986, as we action to - as a reaction to an attack by Gadhafi's services on a Berlin discotheque where U.S. servicemen were killed.
So that same palace compound - from what we can tell at the moment, from what we can judge right now from our location appears to be what has been - what has been targeted at this particular - and that's where we were seeing this anti-aircraft gunfire coming up from the same place where we are now seeing the smoke rising from, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So right now, you are seeing the smoke but the images that we just showed folks, that was from previous, not simultaneous as we were talking to you. Meantime, you know, it is unclear whether any one of those 124 U.S. Tomahawk missiles have been targeting the palace. We have been told, mostly by the Pentagon, that they are targeting defense systems, but you did describe, last we spoke to you, that there was a bit of defense presence there at the Gadhafi palace so could conceivably any of those Tomahawks be targeting that palace?
ROBERTSON: It would seem to be unlikely that they would target them from what we saw there, which was an anti-aircraft defense battery which really in terms of enforcing a no-fly zone to protect the east of the country would not be something that would figure in that part of a radar system, if you will, the anti-aircraft weaponry we saw there would merely be just for the defense of that location.
The east of the country, Benghazi, that area so many hundreds of miles away, the weapons we saw located there really, one would - it would be very hard to imagine how they would play into defense of the eastern part of the country and need to take them out. So it suggests there is something else there that we have not seen that we are not aware of, perhaps is the target at this time, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, thanks so much. Appreciate that. We will check back with you there from Tripoli now, where we continue to hear gunfire. W e continue to hear what he describes as the, you know -
HOLMES: Explosions, incoming.
WHITFIELD: Explosions. Anti-aircraft explosions. Of course, we will try to get back with him momentarily, if we can.
HOLMES: Yes, it's certainly concerning. Before it was an hour or two ago that Nic was reporting on those anti-aircraft fire and this seems to have been directed at something. Now we are going to go back to the Pentagon.
Chris Lawrence, our Pentagon correspondent, asking a question there of Vice Admiral Bill Gortney at the briefing.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: ... arms down or they simply to stop forward movement?
GORTNEY: At this point, I'm not ready to specify the messaging that we have put out there.
QUESTION: Do you think the Libyan air force is capable to fly helicopters?
GORTNEY: Yes, even in all of the no-fly zones that we have set up over the years, we never fully prevented airplanes from flying. At some point, if, you know, it is a vast amount of airspace. So, if - if he chose to he might be able to get something up. I wouldn't rule out that nothing will fly by any stretch. I will tell you that we will - anything that does fly that we detect we will engage.
QUESTION: Yes, ma'am in the back.
QUESTION: You said (INAUDIBLE) mobile radar sites yet, why not? Are they not a danger?
GORTNEY: Well, we have attacked the fixed radar sites but we have not attacked the mobile-surface-to-air radar sites. The AAA sites, whether they are fixed or they are mobile, there's so many of them that it's better to avoid them than it is to try to attack each one of them individually.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) concern move those to populated areas. Have you seen any evidence of that?
GORTNEY: We haven't seen any evidence of that but we couldn't rule that probability out.
QUESTION: Can you just go through a number of the numbers? You said the teams fired off 124. When did that end? When did that barrage to 124 end and have anymore been shot of today?
GORTNEY: I - we talked to you about 1630 yesterday afternoon Eastern Standard Time and it was probably around 2100, 2200 Eastern Standard Time last night is when we then started shooting a few more.
QUESTION: And have anymore been shot off today?
GORTNEY: That I'm not aware of.
QUESTION: And then one other, the - who - which nations right now are actively patrolling the no fly zone?
GORTNEY: You're going to see United States, United Kingdom, France at this particular point. And as nations, you have seen fly their airplanes, you have seen Canada arrive. They get there, they set up their infrastructure, their basing requirements, air crew go into crew rest and then we work them into the next - next day's flying cycle. So every day, you are going to see more nations start to participate.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of how many planes are in the air knew that are actively enforcing it?
GORTNEY: I'm not going to talk about specific tactics or numbers at this time.
QUESTION: When Qatar will start flying?
GORTNEY: No, we are in the process of relocating them there.
QUESTION: Admiral, Admiral Mullen this morning said that the objective was to create sort of 24/7 over watch over Benghazi. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
GORTNEY: Well, Benghazi is part of the no-fly zone so we want to be able to enforce the no-fly zone in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution 24 hours a day.
QUESTION: Can you expand on that?
GORTNEY: Well, the no fly zone will encompass probably all the way from Tripoli to Benghazi and south - I hazard to guess the number of miles, it is such a vast area, but you can focus it on about the top third of the country would be a good rule of thumb at this point.
QUESTION: How far west - how much territory westward of Benghazi is - right now, do you feel is safe enough to start flying the patrols?
GORTNEY: Well, we are enforcing from - when you see us strike into Tripoli, we are striking targets into Tripoli all the way to south of Benghazi that's where we are enforcing the no-fly zone. So -
QUESTION: How many days do you anticipate the U.S. will be involved in air strikes?
GORTNEY: It's difficult to tell at this time, as we once again as I mentioned yesterday, we are on the leading edge of a coalition effort here that we will eventually transition to the rest of the coalition and we will be providing unique capability. At this time it is a little too difficult to predict when that is, that is a function of as countries flow in they get sufficient capacity and numbers to then take over the brunt of the mission.
QUESTION: Can you say days or not weeks or -
GORTNEY: I'm not - I'm not going to try to drive it to a timeline at this time.
QUESTION: When you say transition to the rest of the coalition what exactly does that mean to one country, to several countries?
GORTNEY: - to the coalition.
QUESTION: - move this off.
GORTNEY: Our intent is to be a part of the coalition throughout, transfer the command to a coalition command and then start using more of the capabilities that the coalition nations don't provide that we have, so kind of shift the main effort. That would be tankers, electronic support aircraft, ISR, things of that nature. I would not rule out that we will probably most likely be continuing some portion of the fighter mission as well, but not the preponderance of the force.
QUESTION: could you specify the, you know, specialized aircraft. You mentioned the growlers, Hawkeyes, AWACS, River Joint, can you specify what -
GORTNEY: Yes, many nations will be putting their AWACS into - the U.S., you're going to see things of that nature, rivet, the specialty electronic airplanes, sensors, AWACS for airborne command and control will be in there of course, tankers will be in that regard, logistics flight. There will be a great bit of logistics to enable all of these activity between the -
QUESTION: What's that? F-22?
GORTNEY: We haven't specified the types of airplanes that will ultimately be there.
QUESTION: Any search and rescue efforts?
GORTNEY: We have search and rescue afloat at this particular time.
QUESTION: Right here in the corner.
QUESTION: Could you estimate how - what the cost has been so far for the operation and how that cost is being split among the coalition?
GORTNEY: I am not able to estimate at this time.
QUESTION: What do you think of estimates that the enforcement of the fly zone would cost 100 million and 300 million?
GORTNEY: Our focus at this particular point is to set up and enforce the no-fly zone and that's what we are doing and we will be looking at the costs at another time.
QUESTION: How many aircraft in total will it take to enforce a no-fly zone?
GORTNEY: We will take as many coalition partners as want to come in to do this with us.
QUESTION: Have any coalition partners committed to putting people on the ground, if asked?
GORTNEY: At this point, we are setting up the conditions to enforce the no-fly zone and it doesn't include boots at the ground.
QUESTION: How many coalition partners do you have now, number?
GORTNEY: We have many nations that are waiting to announce themselves but you will have the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Italy, Belgium and Qatar.
QUESTION: The commander solo aircraft flying and is if so what kind of broadcast messages is it sending (INAUDIBLE)?
GORTNEY: We are putting up all of our specialized aircraft of that nature and I'm not ready - I'm not able to talk about the messages. Next question?
QUESTION: Any withdrawals?
GORTNEY: No, sir.
QUESTION: Sir, do you have over flight allowances from neighboring countries? Are neighboring countries allowing you to base maintenance or crews and if so, which ones or how many of them?
GORTNEY: Clearly, we need over flight and basing agreements with many nations and we are not going to discuss what nations are doing that we will let them make that announcement.
QUESTION: Sir there are - breaking reports of a plume of smoke over Gadhafi's residence, can you guarantee that coalition forces are not going to target Gadhafi?
GORTNEY: I can - at this particular point, I can guarantee that he is not on the targeting list.
QUESTION: Is there a but to that?
GORTNEY: What's that?
QUESTION: Is there a but to that?
GORTNEY: The rest of that is if he happens to be in a place, if he's inspecting a surface-to-air missile site, we don't have any idea that he's there or not, then, yes, but, no we are not targeting his residences. We are there to set the conditions and enforce the United Nations security council resolution. That's what we are doing right there right now and limiting it to that.
QUESTION: One in the back and then we are finished.
QUESTION: Have you used - in Turkey during the operation?
GORTNEY: I'm sorry. Say that again.
QUESTION: Have you used (INAUDIBLE).
GORTNEY: We are not going to mention any nations that we're using basing or over flights. We are going to let those countries make those announcements.
QUESTION: All right, thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(END OF COVERAGE)
HOLMES: The Pentagon briefing there by Vice Admiral Bill Gortney giving reporters an idea of what has been going on. A bit of information there. One thing that was important, given what we had heard from Nic Robertson about those explosions in Tripoli, he says that Moammar Gadhafi is not on the target list. Interesting. He said if he happens to be in a building that is, well - there you go.
WHITFIELD: Because as our Nic Robertson reported, witnesses have seen plumes of smoke coming from the Gadhafi residence and that's what kind of precipitated that question. But some assurance there coming from the Pentagon that they are not targeting him nor are they targeting his residence, Gadhafi's that is.
We will be right back with much more on the military strategy. We are going to be joined by a former NATO allied commander, Wes Clark, who is going to be with us to give us an idea what possibly might be next.
HOLMES: A number of nations are helping enforce the United Nations no-fly zone mandate over Libya. The United States and Britain flew jets and warplanes during this weekend's air strikes. Missiles from ships from both of those nations hit targets inside Libya. Aircraft also coming from many countries, including France, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Norway.
WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk a little bit more about the strategy moving forward. Joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, CNN contributor, General Wesley Clark. He is the former NATO supreme allied commander.
All right. General Clark, we heard from Vice Admiral Gortney there at the Pentagon briefing saying that more nations will be involved Interviewer: he days to come, to what capacity do you see that happening?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I see more nations doing the over flights, providing the logistical support and so forth and maybe announcing they are permitting over flights themselves as well as sending aircraft in. But I don't see this as a big combat activity at this point because the hard work has been done and maybe there were some more strikes tonight it is not clear, it seems like something was in the air, and so they maybe finishing off some of these anti-craft sites that were problematic or fixed installations but after this it is really up to the diplomacy.
WHITFIELD: Before we get to diplomacy and where that might go if any where the vice admiral was talking about the installations that were being targeted, strictly defense installations and that it wouldn't be a target to go after Gadhafi's residence, nor to go after him, even though witnesses say there have been plumes of smoke coming from the palace. Do you have any skepticism or -- or about the -- I guess the root plumes of smoke if that would be something that Gadhafi or his government might be fabricating you as sort of a smoke screen of this defense -- of this military offensive?
CLARK: That is certainly possible, it is also possible that it looks like it is coming from there but it isn't. Maybe it was just a function of the angle of the view they're makes it look like the smoke is coming from that same direction sometimes. No I think what Admiral Gortney says, he is going to tell you the truth, and he is not going to tell you anything that is false, he is not going to disclose classified information, obviously. If they are not targeting, they are not targeting.
WHITFIELD: OK. You see these military operations, you would think this is the muscle behind this coalition effort but you touched on diplomacy. Diplomacy is going to be very important here and as the U.S. and Great Britain and other European Union nations, they really do need more Arab nation support, really. Without it, what can happen to this coalition in this effort?
CLARK: Fredricka, you are exactly right. They need, this coalition needs strong Europe's support because as the Arab support that ultimately will put the pressure on Gadhafi to guarantee the safety of the people on the ground. You know before the operation started, there was a lot of loose talk about going after Gadhafi and various international leaders calling on Gadhafi saying he has lost legitimacy get out of power and so forth.
But the actual wording of the U.N. Security Council Resolution does not say that. U.S. leaders have taken pains to say this is not about getting rid of Gadhafi, so the implication is that you could be left in a position where there are two separate Libya's, one in the east, one in the west, both recognized by various groups of people, both having some oil installations and oil, both exporting.
One secured by the no-fly zone from the other, but in which there is no resolution against Gadhafi and he still is vowing revenge against the nations in the west and trying to create this as a crusader versus Muslim battle. So, there are a lot of minefields for the coalition as they move ahead to keep it from being constructed that way and to pull something out of this diplomatically that preserves the original intent which was to assure the Arab spring had a chance to take root in Libya.
WHITFIELD: General Wesley Clark, thanks so much from Little Rock, Arkansas, appreciates your time. We will be talking with you throughout the afternoon and evening.
CLARK: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Of course, we will have much more on this military operation and we are also going to explore some more about the diplomatic efforts that General Clark was talking about.
HOLMES: Exactly. All that and a lot more coming up after the break.
WHITFIELD: Back to our coverage in Libya in a moment. But now to the crisis in Japan where tests reportedly have found radioactive iodine in a drinking water system in a village near the crippled nuclear plant.
HOLMES: That is right. It is three times higher than the standard. There people are being warned don't drink the tap water. Mean while the death toll from last week's earthquake and tsunami that is up to more than 8400 people now, but remember this, 12,900 others are still missing.
WHITFIELD: Workers that the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima is making progress in their battle to cool down the reactor. But Japanese authorities say they may need to release more radioactive gas into the air.
HOLMES: The crisis also having an impact on food supplies. Japan now banning the sale of spinach and raw milk that comes from the area near the plant.
Also, restricting produce. That decision where radiation levels were above the legal limit detected in those farmed goods.
WHITFIELD: And an amazing story of survival nine days after the earthquake and the tsunami. Medical workers rescued an 80-year-old woman as you see right there and her grandson. The 16-year-old boy crawled through the rubble and then climbed onto the roof of their home just in time to alert rescuers.
HOLMES: Extraordinary story.
One of the hardest hit areas is the town of Kanashi. CNN's Kyung Lah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question for people in the tsunami zone more than a week after the tsunami is how do you rebuild from this? This appears to have been a residential area, right near the downtown, a fishing village and if you take a look through this rubble what townspeople are trying to do is figure out what they can salvage but there is not really very much, you can see utensils, there are damaged cars along the background. As far as you can see this downtown is no longer a town and neither of the houses. You can there are cars inside this house. There's even a vending machine and it is simply overwhelming if you live here.
Another part that is over whelming for this town. Is still trying to locate the dead and the missing. At the town center, people are still registering the missing, they have signs posted all over the walls it is almost like wallpaper, messages "have you seen my father," "have you seen my elderly grandparents?" And the question is not if they have survived but if they have survived the tsunami have they been found somewhere else? Are they someplace where they simply haven't located them yet?
It is not a question now of whether they have lived through the tsunamis, it is a matter of miscommunication. So, this town now trying to rebuild, figuring out what they can do next.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Japan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: Get your head around the damage, isn't it?
WHITFIELD: Yes and just gets sadder every day as opposed to feeling like it is getting better or you are feeling more uplifted.
HOLMES: You look at the scale and scope of it and think where do you start?
WHITFIELD: Where? We are going to have much more of our coverage in Japan as well as our coverage in Libya right after this.
HOLMES: Continuing coverage of Libya and the Danish Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech joins us now on the line to discuss the contribution from Denmark. Tell us, you have planes going there what are their roles going to be?
GITTE LILLELUND BECH, DANISH DEFENSE MINISTER (via telephone): Actually, we have deployed four f-15 fighters to Sicily. And they have just been on a mission toward Libya today. I was very happy on Friday just, you know, 24 hours after the Security Council decided to pass a resolution. I managed to have the Danish Parliament pass similar resolutions, saying that we could deploy flights and of course, we could do whatever we can to protect the civilian population in Libya.
HOLMES: Why was it important for Denmark to be involved?
BECH: Because we think when we have the U.N. Security Council to say that the international society just should do something to prevent Gadhafi to do something to the Libyan people, of course we should be part of that. Therefore, I'm very proud, of course, we have the U.S., we have France, we have the UK but now we actually fourth in line doing something and we have had our flights up in the air this afternoon and they came back very successfully, so I'm very happy about that.
HOLMES: Are you confident that the mission, as it has been outlined to Denmark, is one that is about protecting civilians and not ultimately being involved by supporting a revolt?
BECH: Actually, I think it is very important for us and very important for the parliament that this is about protecting the civilians, I think we have to bear in mind that this is -- I think it is the first time we had the U.N. Security Council being that clear in asking the International Society to protect the civilians and create a no-fly zone and do whatever they can to ensure that Gadhafi is not killing his own.
HOLMES: Gitte, is there a difficulty, do you think, just playing devil's advocate, there is no declared policy, really is there of what to do if the rebels counterattack?
BECH: I'm quite -- I know that in NATO, they are having the discussions right now about what can actually happen after the first attack but from a Danish perspective, what we decided is that we would like to be in the forefront, that way we are quite happy about being under U.S. command right now and we hope that you know, at the end of the week, NATO will be the one controlling the military mission and that would be all the countries supporting to protect the civilians in Libya.
HOLMES: Yes, are you among those who would be very keen to see Arab aircraft in the skies over Libya to just add a little bit more to this mission?
BECH: Actually, yes, I think it is very important that we have the regions to support this. As far as I'm concerned, I am informed, we will join the next day and we also will see aircrafts from the region will try to protect civilians in Libya. Thanks. HOLMES: All right. Gitte Lillelund Bech the Danish Defense Minister joining us there live.
Thank you so much.
BECH: You're welcome.
WHITFIELD: Europe's military role in the Libyan operation, we will explore further into that and what the nations are saying about Moammar Gadhafi. That's straight ahead.
HOLMES: Welcome back everyone. Like we said now, what has been going on in Libya, the coalition air strikes now day two, of course and CNN's Nic Robertson has been reporting explosions inside the capital, Tripoli.
WHITFIELD: Apparently from missile strikes. He tells us smoke is coming from the area of Moammar Gadhafi's presidential palace complex. Nic says that he has also heard sustained anti-aircraft fire and other gunfire as well.
HOLMES: Yes. We are hearing that when we were talking to him this is literally minutes after Libya's military ordered an immediate cease- fire, not for the first time and it is not clear if that word has reached the forces loyal to Colonel Gadhafi or if, indeed it is genuine. Military leaders in the United States are taking a wait and see attitude.
WHITFIELD: Aircraft from at least seven nations have been pounding Libyan military targets since early Saturday and officials say most of Gadhafi's air defense systems and airfields have been taken out and Libyan ground forces have been hit. In an audio statement, aired on Libyan television, Gadhafi promised to fight back.
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MOAMMAR GADAHFI, LIBYAN LEADER: America, France or Britain, the question that are, in fact, against us today. They will not enjoy our oil. We will not leave it for them. They have to know that we will fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: And an emergency meeting today, the Arab League reiterated its support for the no-fly zone over Libya. Now, earlier, we talked to Rami Khouri he is the director of the Institute at the American University of Beirut, he is actually in Jordan at the moment. He talks about the importance of the Arab League's decision.
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RAMI KHOURI, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: It is very important that the Arab League took a position asking for or supporting a no-fly zone. So that is really important because it provided that critical legitimacy that the international community needed and the Security Council then acted upon to then actually is a U.N. Security Council vote saying that all necessary means could be used to protect civilians in Libya.
So that Arab League vote was very important. The problem was that it provided the legitimacy for this process but that legitimacy came from a whole bunch of Arab leaders who are experiencing thin or disappearing legitimacy among their own people. So you have to take it seriously at one level but at the same time recognize that the Arab Leaders don't speak for most of the Arab people on in a very serious way they are still legitimate to an extent but that legitimacy is very thin. So you have to take them seriously but at the same time recognize that these are leaders that essentially do whatever the International Community generally asks them to do. That's why you have these uprisings all over the Arab world.
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WHITFIELD: Europe's military contribution to the operation in Libya is significant so, let's bring in Max Foster who is live at 10 Downing Street in London. So Max, which European nations are taking part in what capacity?
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Downing Street, we have just seen the end of a meeting, the Cobra meeting, the emergency meeting, chaired by the prime minister, security offices and certainly senior military and ministerial folk all gathering they all left though, they didn't give us any particular statement. We are not expecting a statement tonight. Perhaps there is an update meeting, we are not going to get more information about any military action, I think, from the UK.
Certainly, we have heard from Norway, you just talking to the Danish defense minister, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France, of course, all contributing assets to this operation, an effort to make it look like a pan-European operation but crucially an international operation, you talking about the Arab involvement here, very important to Europe, this seen as an international effort, not a western effort.
WHITFIELD: Well, you know, Max we were hearing from some military experts who say, OK this military operation is one thing but most important is the diplomacy, so is that something that was discussed likely during this meeting, the effort that have to go forward in the diplomatic realm?
FOSTER: Yes, a sense that really this coalition needs to be seen as solid and no splits forming. It was interesting hearing that interview that Michael had with a Danish defense minister suggesting that she hopes that the American command would be taken over by NATO command, certainly there is an awareness here in London but a NATO command will be unpopular in some African and Arab countries, so maybe that won't be the best command structure.
A real sense, not to make this be seen as a western effort in an African country and also a sense that there shouldn't be any sense of mission creep. So, this perhaps the campaign has been too aggressive so far, some concern about that developing here. William Hague, for example, the foreign minister says this isn't an effort to get rid of Gadhafi. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Obviously we want him to go, the whole world wants him to go, it is not possible to see a viable future for Libya with Colonel Gadhafi still there. But the United Nations resolution does not authorize us to ensure that, it authorizes us to protect civilian population, to have a no-fly zone, to enforce an arms embargo, and then as I say it is up to the people of Libya to decide their own future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: Ministers really grappling with the military effort. But also real political effort to make sure everyone is on board on this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Max Foster thanks so much, 10 Downing Street in London.
HOLMES: All right. Ahead, a look at the key moments from over the past few days.
WHITFIELD: We will show you how we got to where we are right now in the conflict in Libya.
WHITFIELD: Opposition forces have been begging the International Community to help stop Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's aggression for a couple weeks now.
HOLMES: That's right. But over the last couple of days or so international leaders have been pretty fast, really.
Let's have a look at how we got to where we are now.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At around 8:45 we saw a plane overhead that appeared to be heading south and around 910 one of our team witnessed a jet, a fighter jet fall out of the sky in flames. We have since then spoken to an opposition fighter who has told us that that was one of their own aircraft that they were sending out to try to stop, bring a stop to Gadhafi's military assault.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Security Council has authorized the use of force including enforcement of a no-fly zone.
MUSA IBRAHIM, LIBYAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans. The resolution of the Security Council are invalid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They try to enter the city yesterday and the day before yesterday and they were pushed back by our fighter and now they are terrorizing people on the outskirts and really heavy shelling.
PRES. NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRANCE (via translator): Participants agreed to use all the necessary means in particular military means, to enforce the Security Council decisions.
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a broad international effort. The world will not sit idly by while more innocent civilians are killed.
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is legal because we have the backing of the United Nations Security Council and also of the Arab League and many others. I believe we should not stand aside while this dictator murders his own people.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I authorize 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.
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.
VICE ADM. WILLIAM GORTNEY, DIRECTOR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both U.S. and British ships and submarines strapped more than 20 integrated air defense systems and other air defense facilities ashore.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 determine whether it is an anti-craft shooting or gunfire shooting. It was very severe, very heavy.
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