Today, on March 19, 2011, the U.S., U.K. and France at long last intervened in Libya as Qaddafi’s forces began the final assault to finish off the rebels. After thousands of deaths and incalculable destruction, Operation Odyssey Dawn began with air and missile strikes on Qaddafi’s tanks and air defenses in an attempt to perform an 11th hour rescue.
France fired the first shots by destroying four of Qaddafi’s tanks near Benghazi, the capital of the opposition. Over 100 Tomahawk missiles were then fired from U.S. and British warships and submarines to destroy about 20 air defense sites. The immediate objective is to prevent Qaddafi’s forces from putting a quick end to the conflict by overrunning Benghazi and pave the way for the establishment of a no fly zone. Various European countries will soon be involved and Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are expected to contribute and Egypt is arming the rebels.
The West says that the goal of military operations is not to overthrow Qaddafi. U.S. Vice Admiral William Gortney said that the objective is to “deny the Libyan regime from using force against its own people.” French President Sarkozy said regime change is not being sought but Qaddafi must “allow the Libyan people to choose their own destiny.” The apparent goal is a ceasefire as Sarkozy stated the “door to diplomacy will reopen when the fighting will stop.”
The Libyan uprising began on February 15 and escalated into a civil war as Qaddafi’s forces used brutal violence to try to crush its opponents, which included tactics such as machine-gunning attendees at funerals. The opposition consistently begged for help from the United States and international community that did not include the deployment of ground forces. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. who turned against Qaddafi said in exasperation, “’All the options are on the table,’ they say all the time. I say, ‘Take one option at least.’” He explained that the lack of U.S. action was vindicating anti-American beliefs in the Arab world that it “has only a materialist mind—they don’t care about human rights…except when it comes to their own interest.” The public prediction of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence that the rebels would lose certainly didn’t help.
A military commander in Tobruk who defected to the opposition said that he hoped the West would not be dissuaded from doing the right thing because of its oil business with Qaddafi. As far back as February 19, a woman in Benghazi was being interviewed on CNN where she begged over and over for help, pleading, “Mr. Obama, please help us.” France and the U.K. became the loudest supporters of establishing a no fly zone and supporting the rebels and France formally recognized the opposition. The U.S., on the other hand, delayed action as Qaddafi’s forces were able to turn the situation around and begin taking back territory. By the time the Arab League and United Nations approved a military intervention, many people had lost their lives and the rebels were on the brink of defeat. One estimate put the number of deaths at 10,000.