Libya: French Air Strikes on Tanks Near Benghazi

Enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya has begun, with French military jets taking the lead. According to al Jazeera breaking news, “French warplanes have destroyed four Libyan tanks near the city of Benghazi.” You can follow the al Jazeera Libya live blog here.

The BBC also has a live blog on Libya that is frequently updated. The latest update is this tweet from a Libyan opposition group:

1758: Activist group Liberty4Libya tweets: “#Libya #Zintan, heavy shelling into the city of #Zintan, #Gaddafi troops’ tanks advancing under the fire cover.”

The BBC page is also running video reports.

Voice of America has this report: Allied Warplanes Patrol Libyan Skies. According to VOA Canadian planes are also on the way to launching point in Sicily.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says allied warplanes are flying over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in the city of Benghazi, where forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi have been bearing down on rebels trying to bring down his government.

U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed a short time later that the United States has joined a coalition with its European and Arab partners to take action in Libya.

Obama spoke to reporters during his visit to Brazil. He said the allied coalition’s “resolve is clear,” and that all members are “prepared to act with urgency.”

Gaddafi has already responded as follows:

Gadhafi sent urgent messages to world leaders Saturday, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In a letter read to reporters by a government spokesman in Tripoli, Gadhafi noted the rebels had seized control of Benghazi, and asked rhetorically how Obama would “behave” if there was a similar situation in the United States.

Addressing the U.N. secretary-general, Gadhafi said the Security Council’s resolution on Libya is “invalid,” and predicted that any Western action against Libya would be seen as “clear aggression.”

Here is a report on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement last night in response to Gaddafi’s supposed “cease-fire.”

The BBC also has video of Hillary’s remarks after the Paris Summit today. You can watch it here. You can read the full text of her statement below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


TGIFriday Reads

I can’t believe it’s Friday already.  It just seems like my recent bout with the flu put me in some other time zone.  There is so much going on right now my head is spinning from all the news.  We have a nuclear melt down, another war with another madman, and congress nitpicking over little line items in the budget when there’s a sustained high rate of unemployment.  What’s next?

The WSJ reports that Egypt is arming the Libyan Rebels and that the White House knows this.  This is a clear indication that Libya’s neighbors want Gadhafi gone.

The shipments—mostly small arms such as assault rifles and ammunition—appear to be the first confirmed case of an outside government arming the rebel fighters. Those fighters have been losing ground for days in the face of a steady westward advance by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The Egyptian shipments are the strongest indication to date that some Arab countries are heeding Western calls to take a lead in efforts to intervene on behalf of pro-democracy rebels in their fight against Mr. Gadhafi in Libya. Washington and other Western countries have long voiced frustration with Arab states’ unwillingness to help resolve crises in their own region, even as they criticized Western powers for attempting to do so.

The shipments also follow an unusually robust diplomatic response from Arab states. There have been rare public calls for foreign military intervention in an Arab country, including a vote by the 23-member Arab League last week urging the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

SOS Hillary Clinton believes that the No-fly zone will require bombing. This has been indicated by some retired generals who have done similar actions in other UN actions like Bosnia.  Clinton is in Tunisia and has been traveling in the region.

“A no-fly zone requires certain actions taken to protect the planes and the pilots, including bombing targets like the Libyan defense systems,” Clinton said in Tunis, her last stop on a trip that also took her to Cairo and Paris.

In all her stops, Clinton’s done a mix of stressing the need for democracy in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt, and pushing for international cooperation in responding to the crisis in Libya. On Thursday, her only full day in Tunisia, Clinton promised that the United States “will stand with you as you make the transition to democracy, prosperity and a better future.”

Democrats are finally pushing back on the Republican canard that Social Security is bankrupt.  Harry Reid also took on the falsehood that Social Security is some how related to the Federal Deficit.  It’s about time.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appeared on MSNBC last night, where he strongly rejected the idea that Social Security cuts should be on the table during current budget talks. “I’ve said clearly and as many times as I can, leave Social Security alone. Social Security has not added a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has. And for the next 30 years, it won’t do that,” Reid said. “Two decades from now, I am willing to take a look at it. I am not willing to take a look at it now.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, have stated their intention to suggest “bold reforms” for Social Security in their 2012 budget, which House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) plans to release during the first week of April. At Politico’s “Playbook Breakfast” today, which Wonk Room attended, Ryan was asked about Reid’s position. Ryan said that Reid’s stance “just boggles my mind,” before later admitting that Social Security is “not a driver of our debt”

Politico reports that Republicans are trying to roll back financial reform.

Republicans clearly want to strike at the heart of banking reform with legislation attacking new regulations on derivatives, credit rating agencies and private equity firms. But their piecemeal approach suggests they are trying to do so without appearing to favor Wall Street over Main Street.

And for a party so vigilant on its messaging, the GOP doesn’t intend to swing the door wide-open for Democrats to go on the offensive in ways they couldn’t during the repeal debate over the far less popular health care law.

“There’s no question they didn’t like financial reform,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the law’s namesakes and top Democrat on the committee said of Republicans. “But they’re more respectful of the public appeal of this and are going about this at the edges.”

Obama held a presser yesterday and announced that he had ordered a review of  safety at US nuclear facilities.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has conducted an “exhaustive study” of U.S. plants and they have been “declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies,” Obama said at the White House. Still, he said, a review should be conducted based on what is learned from the damage at the Japanese facility.

The president said the administration will keep the public informed about the nuclear crisis and sought to allay any health concerns in the U.S.

“We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States,” including Hawaii, Alaska and territories in the Pacific, he said.

Obama’s remarks reinforced statements earlier today by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko that the government continually reviews safety and standards and will do so based on what is learned from the situation in Japan. There is no immediate need for special inspections of U.S. nuclear plants, he said.

Meanwhile, the EPA has proposed tougher air pollution standards for US power plants.

Newly proposed national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from power plants could prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed standards, released Wednesday by the EPA in response to a court deadline, could also prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year; avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions annually; and lead to 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to health problems.

Under the proposal, many power plants would be required to install proven pollution control technologies to reduce harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, the EPA said.

Opposition leaders in Bahrain have been arrested following a crackdown on protests.

Several opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in Bahrain following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

State television said “leaders of the civil strife” had been arrested for communicating with foreign countries and inciting murder and destruction of property.

Among those arrested were Hassan Mushaima, who had returned last month from self-imposed exile in the UK after Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him, and Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, a secular group comprising mostly Sunni members.

Also taken into custody early on Thursday was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, a leader of the Haq movement, who was jailed last August but was freed in late February as part of concessions by the Khalifa royal family to protesters.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent, reporting from the capital, Manama, said a crackdown on the opposition’s main voices was under way.

“Significant members of the opposition were arrested overnight, including some prominent activists. Soldiers broke into the houses of these figures early in the morning and made these arrests,” he said.

Later in the day, protesters ignored warnings to stay at home and gathered in Dair and Jidhaf just outside Manama.

What a world!

One last article from Politico on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the role she played in getting the world to take on Gadhafi.  Also, some more hints on her future plans.

Clinton has made similar “I’m not here forever” comments before – but it was the timing of her remarks to CNN on Wednesday that raised eyebrows, coming at a critical moment in her fierce internal battle to push President Barack Obama to join the fight to liberate Libya from Muammar Qadhafi.

Clinton’s position was vindicated early Thursday evening when the United Nations Security Council – at the urging of the United States – approved a resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, including a no-fly zone. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that such a move could involve direct attacks on pro-Qadhafi forces now bearing down on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

Clinton’s persistence in the anti-Qadhafi cause has been such a constant in the White House in recent days that Obama, according to reports, joked about Clinton lobbing rocks through his window during his remarks at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner.

“Stay tuned,” said one Clinton friend when asked if the secretary would ultimately prevail.

Two Clinton friends, who speak with her regularly, told POLITICO she wasn’t trying to send any message to Obama with her interview with Wolf Blitzer Wednesday and she has no plans to leave earlier than the end of the president’s first term.

Whats on your reading and blogging list today?


Libya: UN Air Strikes Coming; Gaddafi Threatens to “Get Crazy”

Gaddafi’s radio address from earlier today:

I know you’ve all heard that the UN Security Council has approved international intervention in the Libya conflict. What does it mean? What will happen next? Your guess is as good as mine, but we might as well talk about it anyway, right? Here are a few links to get us started.

The Guardian UK: Libya: UN security council backs no-fly zone and air strikes

British and French military aircraft are preparing to protect the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi after the UN security council voted in favour of a no-fly zone and air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

With Gaddafi’s troops closing in on Benghazi, the French prime minister, François Fillon, said “time is of the essence” and that France would support military action within hours of the vote. But US sources were more cautious, speaking of action in days rather than hours.

Fighter jets and bombers could take off from French bases along the Mediterranean coast, about 750 miles from Libya. Several Arab countries have promised to join the operation. Washington supported the resolution, a complete turnaround after weeks of resisting no-fly zone proposals, but has not yet said what role, if any, it would play in military action.

The 15-member security council voted in favour of a resolution authorising all necessary measures, other than occupation, to protect civilians under threat of attack, including Benghazi. Ten members voted in favour, with five, including China, Russia and Germany, abstaining. The resolution ruled out putting troops on the ground.

Reportedly, the opposition forces were heartened by the decision. I hope it won’t be to late to make a difference.

Simon Tisdall, Guardian: Libya finally forces Barack Obama’s hand as he goes for broke

With a boldness that the world had begun to believe he lacked, Barack Obama has gone for broke. The US wants Muammar Gaddafi’s head. It will not rest until he is deposed and there is regime change in Libya. And it will fight to get it.

Obama spent weeks pondering, prevaricating and posturing, infuriating Britain and France, arch advocates of military intervention. He used public appearances to prate professorially about plans, contingencies and downsides. He allowed senior administration officials such as Pentagon chief Robert Gates to give full vent to their doubts and misgivings about a possible Libyan quagmire.

Obama finally made his mind up. The US would intervene to stop him. And there would be no half measures. All steps short of boots on the ground, as the US under-secretary of state William Burns put it are now urgently contemplated, with a view to immediate implementation.

Whatever. My hypothesis is that Obama couldn’t take the criticism or the worldwide attention that Hillary has been getting during her recent travels.

Gaddafi is not happy.

Whoa! WTF?!

Muammar Gaddafi has pledged to retake the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and warned that any foreign attack on Libya would endanger air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean area, as the UN security council voted for military intervention.

In a defiant and menacing radio address, the Libyan leader sought to pre-empt the UN. “No more fear, no more hesitation, the moment of truth has come,” he declared. “There will be no mercy. Our troops will be coming to Benghazi tonight.”

The defence ministry in Tripoli issued its threat of retaliation in the Mediterranean in the apparent hope of influencing deliberations in New York that approved an assault on Libya’s air defences and ground forces.

The Independent UK reports tough talk from the British and Americans:

After the vote, British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated the case for the resolution. “We have said all along that Gaddafi must go,” he said.

“It is necessary to take these measures to avoid greater bloodshed, to try to stop… attacks on civilians and the people of Libya.”

His US counterpart Hillary Clinton took a similar stance, speaking during a visit to Tunis. “Gaddafi must go,” she said. Calling him a “ruthless dictator,” she added: “If Gaddafi does not go, he will just make trouble. That is just his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

Defence sources in London meanwhile indicated that the coalition’s first targets would be the tank convoys closing on Benghazi or ships attempting to bombard the city. Arab participation is likely to be provided initially by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, although there were already reports as the resolution was passed of Egypt shipping arms to the rebels across the border.

In the wake of the UN decision, Gaddafi has stepped back a bit: After pounding rebel hub, Gaddafi calls for truce as UN action looms

Libya’s army said it would halt operations from Sunday to allow rebels to lay down their arms, softening repeated threats by Muammar Gaddafi to crush them, as world powers edged towards adopting tough measures to shut down the strongman’s military machine.

Libyan troops pushed forward towards the insurgent stronghold of Benghazi on Thursday and launched air raids on its outskirts as Washington raised the possibility of air strikes to stop the forces. The international debate on what action to take may have dragged on too long to help the anti-Gaddafi uprising, now struggling to hold its ground one month after it started.

What do you think? Is is too little, too late? Or are we getting ourselves into another Iraq?

UPDATE: Dakinikat called my attention to this article at the Foreign Policy blog: Inside classified Hill briefing, administration spells out war plan for Libya

Several administration officials held a classified briefing for all senators on Thursday afternoon in the bowels of the Capitol building, leaving lawmakers convinced President Barack Obama is ready to attack Libya but wondering if it isn’t too late to help the rebels there.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns led the briefing and was accompanied by Alan Pino, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, Gen. John Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues, Nate Tuchrello, National Intelligence Manager for Near East, Rear Adm. Michael Rogers, Director of Intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rear Admiral Kurt Tidd, Vice Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Several senators emerged from the briefing convinced that the administration was intent on beginning military action against the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi within the next few days and that such action would include both a no-fly zone as well as a “no-drive zone” to prevent Qaddafi from crushing the rebel forces, especially those now concentrated in Benghazi.


Update Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant: Obama Speaks…Breaking News Libya and Bahrain

Friday fall-out: A graphic showing the path of the nuclear plume as predicted by the UN

This is a live blog thread to update our readers on the situation in Japan, Obama is set to give a statement shortly, and we will have a live blog on his press conference in the comment section below.  CNN is reporting that Obama will not take any questions during this statement…no surprise there right?  Anyway…Here are some links to live updates and latest news regarding the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan.

Kyodo News

Reuters

NHK World News

NHK Live News Stream

Recent articles of note:

Then we get this news from the UN Nuclear Agency:

I think these conflicting reports make the situation worse in the eyes of those in Japan.  The main thing to take away from all this is that those of us on the West Coast of the US are safe, in that the radiation in the plume  cloud will be greatly reduced by the time it gets to our shores…even in Hawaii. However, the real concern is in Japan. That is where the focus of worry should be. There are huge populations in and around the area of this nuclear power plant. These people are the ones whom we should concentrate our thoughts…prayers and hopes toward.  It is heartbreaking to see the desperation and emotional toll this is placing on the Japanese citizens and the local government officials that are directly affected by the Nuclear Crisis.

Obama made a “surprise” visit today to the Japanese Embassy in DC, to sign a condolence book. Why do I get the vision of his message looking like something out of a High School Yearbook…

To Japan: Best Wishes! Your BFF Barack Obama 🙂

Okay, that may be a bit harsh, and not to trivialize the situation of the disaster in Japan, but after all the partying and March Madness Picks…I really have a hard time comprehending any “real” message being sent from this president.

On a side note, I do not know if many of you watch the Little League World Series, but teams from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia  and Japan were actually in the semi and final rounds of this past years Series.  Just to put the news in perspective…and to give it some context in relation to a simple game of baseball, and the connection between our countries kids and the kids in these countries devastated by conflict and natural disasters.

News on Libya, Bahrain and MENA:

I want to also take some time to update you on Libya and Bahrain.

Video: Libya – Rebels Claim To Drive Back Pro-Gaddafi Forces Around Eastern Town Of Ajdabiyah | World News | Sky News

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to retake the main rebel stronghold of Benghazi and warned there would be no mercy for those who do not put down their weapons.

In a radio address, the Libyan leader told residents that unarmed people have nothing to fear from the army, but every home will be searched.

Col Gaddafi promised to pardon rebels in Benghazi who surrender, saying his forces would not pursue those who drop their weapons and flee.

But he said “for those who resist there will be no mercy or compassion”.

It comes as his forces reportedly carried out air strikes on the outskirts of the country’s second city, which is home to a million people.

Look here for other articles on the no-fly zone and journalist that are missing in Libya:

Bahrain police round up opposition leaders and take over hospital – Telegraph

Bahrain’s police rounded up opposition leaders at gunpoint and took over a major hospital as it continued a violent crackdown on a protest movement despite international calls for restraint.

Of course for recent updates on all situations:
AJE – Al Jazeera English

Look for more updates below in the comment section, feel free to post anything y’all find…


Hillary Clinton on Libya: “Nothing is Off the Table”

Hillary Clinton speaking in Geneva (Fox News)

CNN: From Geneva, Switzerland yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that

“nothing is off the table” as the United States works with allies to stop the bloodshed in Libya where embattled leader Moammar Gadhafi struggles to remain in power. But as the Pentagon confirms that the United States is “repositioning” naval and air forces to be prepared for any option with Libya, Secretary Clinton said there is no pending U.S. naval actions planned against Libya. “We do believe that there will be the need for support for humanitarian intervention,” she said when asked about the reports.

[….]

Clinton’s remarks come as she meets with European Union ministers. Monday the EU agreed to impose economic sanctions on Libya, including an arms embargo, freezing Ghadaffi’s assets and banning travel to Libya. This is the latest action after the United States announced similar sanctions Friday.

Speaking to reporters, Clinton said that U.S. humanitarian teams have been sent to Libya’s borders of Tunisia and Egypt. Clinton said USAID has set aside an additional $10 million for humanitarian aid including much needed medical supplies.

Today, Hillary was back in Washington, and she went to Capital Hill to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and argued, in so many words, that cutting diplomatic funds to deal with foreign crises would be penny-wise and pound foolish

The comments came a day after the US began repositioning warships and military aircraft in the Libya region.

Mrs Clinton repeated demands that Col Muammar Gaddafi “must go now, without further violence or delay”.

“The entire [Middle East] region is changing, and a strong and strategic American response will be essential, Mrs Clinton said to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in prepared testimony.

“In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy, or it could face protracted civil war. The stakes are high.

Voice of America provided more information on from Hillary’s Congressional testimony:

Clinton said the U.S. is sending humanitarian and military teams to help those fleeing Libya for Tunisia and Egypt. She called the situation in Libya an example of how the State Department must use diplomatic resources to sustain and advance U.S. security.

Clinton’s testimony comes as the U.S. Congress battles over the country’s proposed budget, with some lawmakers demanding deep cuts in spending. But she warned members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that reductions in diplomatic spending could come at a high cost.

She said a failure to fund civilian missions in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq could cause military gains to erode or be erased.

Clinton said shifting responsibilities from military to civilian efforts saves money. She said the U.S. military’s total worldwide request dropped by $45 billion from 2010, while the State Department’s cost will increase by less than $4 billion.

It sounds like the US and other Western countries are nearing a decision about whether to intervene in some way in the carnage in Libya. On Al Jazeera there has been more talk of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, but a number of commentators have pointed out that this would be a very serious step. It means that those enforcing the no-fly zone would be committed to shooting down violators. It would also mean taking out Libya’s air defenses. In other words, it means military action in Libya.

It will be interesting to see what the next step will be. It certainly does feel as we are building toward something serious.