After a month of deadly attacks against Libyan civilians, an international alliance launched the first phase of air assaults on Saturday against the Libyan air force and Muammar Gaddafi, who has led Libya for over forty years. Beginning February 15th, a mass demonstration throughout Libya called for Gaddafi to step down, but Gaddafi responded with violent attacks against his own people. The Libyan Human Rights League has estimated the death toll to already exceed 6,000 civilians.
The goal of the air assault is to establish a no-fly zone in Libya and therefore prevent the Libyan air force from attacking civilians. A broad international alliance supports the no-fly zone, which includes the United Nations. On Thursday, March 17th, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1973 [.pdf] to officially condemn Gaddafi’s brutal treatment of Libyans, impose further sanctions against Libya, and also provide humanitarian assistance to displaced Libyans. The League of Arab Nations passed a similar resolution supporting a no-fly zone last Saturday.
While many countries support the establishment of a no-fly zone, there are currently five countries that are a part of the military operations in Libya – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Italy. Though, the Defense Department expects other nations to announce participation in “Operation Odyssey Dawn” in coming days.
The military operations against Gaddafi’s regime do not include ground troops from any of the five countries, but only includes the use of cruise missiles and electronic attacks on the Libyan military’s air-defense system. During the first phase of attacks on Saturday, coalition forces fired 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libya’s air-defense system. At the Pentagon, a senior official on Saturday stressed that these 110 missiles were “just the first phase of what will likely be a multiphase military operation.” The video below shows a Libyan jet falling from the sky in Benghazi on Friday and the chaotic warfare the country has devolved into.
With the support of an international coalition, the Libyan people will no longer be subject to merciless air assaults from Gaddafi’s regime. As a result, Libyans will likely be more mobile and eventually be able to move forward with their political revolution. However, Gaddafi has vowed to fight to his death and will likely attempt to escalate the violence against rebels. Regardless, the international strike against Gaddafi is not only symbolic to the people of Libya, but also to people in other countries where authoritarian leaders rule with an iron fist.
In addition to the recent political revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt, mass demonstrations against authoritarian leaders continue in Bahrain, as well as Yemen, where the civilian death tolls are 20 and 86, respectively. With violent crackdowns against civilians throughout the region, the international intervention in Libya symbolizes a denouncement of violence against peaceful protesters.