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French Planes Open Fire on Libyan Tank; French Jets Destroys First Libyan Target; French Enforce a No-Fly Zone; U.S. Stands with its Allies; 5.9 Aftershock Rattles Japan; Above Legal Radiation Levels Detected

Aired March 19, 2011 - 13:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, we now know that Jill Dougherty is on the line for us in Paris. She's been following Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state. She joins us now. And Jill, what struck me about that news conference which the secretary of state just gave was, essentially, she was very noncommittal on what the Arab nations will be doing. Is that because she doesn't know, or she would prefer to allow these nations to make their own statements, as she said, or is it still up in the air?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, that is an interesting question because we don't know exactly at this point why she decided not to do that. It could be that, speaking to the American media, she was not going to make a formal announcement of what other countries are going to do.

And that's a sensitive subject. It was one of the key things they want, even if it's not, you know, let's say, a major military role by the Arab countries, they certainly consider the cooperation by those countries -- and she did name them -- who are here at this meeting, especially the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, that it is really crucial to have them on board.

That said, there were some really interesting moments, John, I thought, especially, when she talked about the fact that as these leaders from Europe and from the United States and from the Arab countries sat here at the Elysee Palace in Paris, there were French planes in the air as they spoke.

And I asked her, in fact, what about the conditions on the ground? There are some reports that things are getting a bit more quiet around Benghazi. And she said, actually, the aggressive actions by Gadhafi's forces continue in many areas of Libya, and there's no real effort to abide by the ceasefire, and that several speakers at that meeting had said that it's simply not true that he will be pulling back.

Then also, I think his comments -- her comments about the opposition, no decision on recognizing the opposition, even though they are now protecting civilian areas. And one of the newest things she said was this fact about the defections, what she claims are defections, among the people who are around Colonel Gadhafi. She said right now they're aiming their message at people who are around Gadhafi and wishing for more defections.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And, Jill, I wonder, while we heard, you know, Clinton talk about this changing the political landscape of things at the Arab league, Arab nations are involved here, I felt like I was also hearing two things.

While she said in one message that a political process is the answer, not violence, she also said during this meeting that they, these Arab countries in particular, agreed to take all necessary measures, including military action. So ultimately, while diplomacy is the thing that she is underscoring she would want most; also military action might mean violence.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, absolutely. And in fact, I think you could make the argument that it's beyond diplomacy. You can always go back to diplomacy, but right now the accent is totally on military action. And in fact, as she said, but right now they're looking at people around Gadhafi. It almost seems as if, you know, there was no plea to Gadhafi to get serious and stop, it was really almost as if they had given up on him.

Because as she said, even though they -- the Libyan leaders said that there is a cease-fire, what they are seeing on the ground completely contradicts that. So you can imagine, she noted that, that there will be more actions, even after the over flights and by the French planes.

VAUSE: And, Jill, when she was asked specifically if U.N. Resolution 1973 is about protecting civilians or removing Gadhafi as leader, she said it's all about protecting civilians but the reality is, to protect civilians they may have to remove Gadhafi as leader.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, that has come up and it's really kind of a chicken and an egg. I think the best way to look at it is, the focus right now is to stop Gadhafi's troops from getting to Benghazi, force them to pull out those three cities that she mentioned that are key cities and stop the violence.

Now, down the road in a staged, you know, certain stages could ensue, their ultimate goal is to have Gadhafi step down. But how you do that at this point is very unclear. That remains the goal. But that is not the goal of the U.N. Resolution. The U.N. Resolution is to stop this violence and to do it in various ways. Not only militarily. That's where the focus is right now. But they also were talking about arms embargoes and sanctions and other things that would continue the squeeze on Colonel Gadhafi.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jill Dougherty thanks so much, joining us from Paris traveling there with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We're going to talk a little bit more about this, we're also going to hear from a Middle East analyst from the London School of Economics Gerges he is going to be joining us right after a short break.

VAUSE: Yes, he has a lot of good things to say. We've spoken to him before, so stay with us. We'll be like back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Continuing our coverage of the international show of force against Libya, I'm now joined by colleague CNN international Hala Gorani.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: All right. Nice to be here. Fredricka, it all came out of a meeting this morning. Diplomats including those from the European Union, and the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. as well as other Arab countries, which happened in Paris.

WHITFIELD: And as soon as it ended, French warplanes were in the sky over Libya and forcing a United Nations resolution that includes a no-fly zone.

GORANI: All right. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy says the planes were launched to stop forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi from attacking.

WHITFIELD: CNN's Armand Damon reports at the moment that Benghazi is fairly quiet. She says she can see the plumes of smoke but no Libyan tanks. French President Nicholas Sarkozy stepped out of that emergency meeting in Paris earlier today to confirm the French jets were enforcing the U.N. sanction the no-fly zone.

GORANI: All right. His comments were very interesting. Here's another look at what he said in Paris today.


NICOLAS SARKOZY, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (via translator): Together we have decided to install the application of the Security Council resolution cease-fire an end to the violence against civil populations in Libya.

Participants agreed to use all the necessary means, in particular military means, to enforce the Security Council decisions. This is why an agreement our efforts against any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi against the population of Benghazi.

As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town. As of now, other French aircraft are ready to intervene against tanks, armored vehicles, threatened unarmed civilians.

As of yesterday, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Arab countries sent Colonel Gadhafi and the forces he's using the following warning. If there is not an immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of the forces that have been attacking civilian populations in the last few weeks, our countries will resort to means.

This warning was endorsed by all participants at the summit that has just concluded. Colonel Gadhafi has totally ignored this warning. In the last few hours, his forces have stepped up their deadly offensives.

Arab peoples have chosen to free themselves from the enslavement in which they have felt trapped for too long. These revolts have given rice to great hopes in the hearts of all those who share the values of democracy and human rights.

But they're not without risk. The future of these Arab peoples belongs to them. Amidst the many different difficulties and ordeals they must confront, these Arab peoples need our help and support, and it is our duty to provide it.

In Libya, a peaceful civilian population demanding nothing more than the right to choose its own destiny is in mortal danger. It is our duty to respond to their anguished appeal.

The future of Libya belongs to the Libyans. We do not seek to decide for them. Their fight for freedom is theirs. Our intervention alongside Arab peoples is not with a view to imposing any specific outcome on them but in the name of the universal conscience that will not tolerate such crimes.

Today we are intervening in Libya under a United Nations Security Council mandate alongside our partners, in particular, our Arab partners. We're doing this in order to protect the civilian populations from the murderous madness of a regime that, by killing its own people, has forfeited all legitimacy.

We are intervening in order to enable the Libyan people to choose its own destiny. It must not be deprived of it rights by violence and terror. There is still time for Colonel Gadhafi to avoid the worst by complying immediately and unreservedly with all the demands of the international community. The doors of diplomacy will open once again when the aggression stops.

Our determination is total. I say this with all solemnity -- all those concerned must face up to their responsibilities. This is a grave decision that we have come to take. Alongside its Arab partners, European partners, North American partners, France is resolved to shoulder its role before history.

Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right, that was President Sarkozy earlier, and we have since learned that according to some reporting, including confirmation from CNN that French planes did open fire on a Libyan military vehicle.

All morning we've been talking about how French fighter jets are being used to try to intercept or keep Libyan forces from attacking civilians, but now another step.

GORANI: Exactly. And Nicolas Sarkozy made it very clear when he addresses the reporters there Empire Palace in Paris, he said we will target tanks; we will target military vehicles to protect civilians in Libya.

And interestingly, they are not just using fighter jets, they're repositioning an aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle that has left the Port of Tulane (ph) in France we understand from official sources to reposition itself in order to be used in this operation to enforce U.N. Security Council 1973. So it is all the pieces of this puzzle are coming into place in order for this operation to be --

WHITFIELD: And even though we just heard from Hillary Clinton and we're going to hear it again, her statements just moments ago that the effort is to make this a civil, diplomatic one, but certainly many nations that she has been meeting with, delegates from all those nations have all agreed that military force just might be something they have to take. So this is what Hillary Clinton had to say just moments ago after meeting in Paris.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So let me be very clear about the position of the United States. We will support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of Resolution 1973.

As you may know, French planes are already in the skies above Benghazi. Now, America has unique capabilities, and we will bring them to bear to help our European and Canadian allies and Arab partners stop further violence against civilians


WHITFIELD: About 20 French fighter jets are now patrolling the skies over Libya.

GORANI: And now we're getting reports that they're firing, as we just mentioned a few minutes ago, on targets, military vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in order to protect Libyan civilians. Senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman I believe is in Paris right now with us.

Jim, we have a few more -- no, it's Nic Robertson in Libya's capital Tripoli.

WHITFIELD: There we go.

GORANI: Well, we have both, which is good, because we need both. Jim Bitterman, while we have you here, I understand we have details on what planes are being used right now over Libya, what French fighter jets are being used in this operation.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Hala, we've just been listening to a briefing here at the defense ministry. A couple of things I can report, there has been the first engagement which took place about a half hour ago in which a French shot at a Libyan military vehicle.

We don't know what kind. The Ministry of Defense wasn't specific about it. But that is a first engagement that we've heard reported on, and basically what we heard from the defense minister is that about two hours, two and a half hours before this meeting in Paris took place, the first aircraft took off from French bases about 11:00 local time this morning, flew across the Mediterranean towards Libya and were in a position as the meeting was going on to perform the first surveillance operations.

Along about an hour before the meeting actually broke up, other aircraft about six fighters took off from bases here. These are combat aircraft that can take out vehicles on the ground that can attack ground positions. They took off, and they are in the skies. Now, this is just the French contingent. One of the things we're not hearing here is what the other nations in this coalition may be doing, where their planes are and all the rest of it.

But as far as the French go, they have about 20 aircraft in the skies right now, and they have two frigates off the coast in the Charles de Gaulle, the only French aircraft carrier is on its way toward the Libyan coast. It will probably be in position tomorrow. So already some military assets being committed by France. And we'll have to see what the other nations, when their defense ministers report what exactly they're doing -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Jim Bitterman live in Paris, France, very much Fredricka taking the lead in this operation.

WHITFIELD: All right, Frederik Pleitgen is joining us right now before we're able to get back to Nic Robertson. Let's go to Frederik Pleitgen joining us from Berlin, give us an idea what kind of involvement Germany is committing to on this front.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty simple, it's none. And that's one of the reasons why the Germans are being so heavily criticized internationally. They're in the U.N. Security Council but abstained from that vote together with countries like Russia and China, and therefore are being heavily criticized by the French and also of course here domestically by other people as well.

The Germans for their part are saying that first of all they're afraid that any sort of military engagement like the kind that we're seeing right now in Libya could lead to a worsening of the situation on the ground, could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

They're worried about civilian casualties and last but not least they're also worried about their own forces getting hurt in any way, shape or form. So they said they're not willing to participate in any way, shape or form in all of this and therefore they abstain from that U.N. Resolution as well.

The one thing that the Germans say they are willing to do is they are willing to take over more responsibilities in Afghanistan to help out other nations that right now have to pull out assets of Afghanistan to commit to the mission in Libya. But Germany of course in the very, very difficult situation, certainly a lot of explaining that Angela Merkel had to do today in Paris at that meeting, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Frederik Pleitgen thanks so much.

And among the other nations of those five nations that have abstained India, China, Russia, Brazil, as well, making it very awkward for the president of the United States traveling in Brazil, but he still had comments supporting this movement to, in his way, try to protect the people of Libya.

GORANI: Right. Just the day before Brazil abstained at the U.N. Security Council and today this visit takes place with the president. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll take you live to Libya.


WHITFIELD: About 20 fighter jets, French fighter jets are now patrolling the skies over Libya.

GORANI: All right. There might be more this is of course an international operation, we have more details on what France is doing, but it is happening. This enforcement of the no-fly zone is right now unfolding over Libya. We're getting reports that a French jet has fired on targets already to protect Libyan civilians.

WHITFIELD: All right. We want to bring in our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Not sure what you're able to deliver on information of what kind of target that may have been, presumably in the northeastern part of that country.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've been told that it's a military vehicle and this will certainly answer for the Gadhafi regime what the international community is going to do in terms of go beyond merely enforcing a no-fly zone, taking out a military vehicle. It was one engaged in some sort of radar assistance for planes to take on and off the ground, Libyan planes that is, would seem to indicate and show very clearly to Moammar Gadhafi that the international community is willing to strike his army in the battlefield.

That will be particularly troubling for him right now because it is a raid around all those citizen towns in the east of the country that we just heard secretary of state Hillary Clinton saying that he need to withdraw from. But literally as we were hearing that news, the French warplanes had made a hit on a military vehicle. We could hear the gunfire that sort of been fairly persistent through this city through the late afternoon here. We could hear that sort of ratchet up. Bigger guns playing in.

What we're seeing play out here on state television and the sounds of the car horns we're hearing around the city and the gunfire, it's all to show support and loyalty to Moammar Gadhafi, the television here showing small gatherings of people, protectors they're calling them at the International Airport, at Moammar Gadhafi's palace, airports in the east of country, at least there are protectors intended it seems to show that people will come out and protect these sites for the Libyan government. Of course the Libyan government will have assisted people in organizing to make these protestors, which are very small and perhaps informing the Libyan people that the International Airport would be a target. Hard to imagine how that would be at this stage, but that's the kind of message the Libyan government is putting out to its people right now -- Hala, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nic, I wonder, too. What is being heard from, or said by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi? We heard Hillary Clinton, secretary of state of the U.S. just moments ago talking about while for a moment they thought there might be a cease-fire coming from Gadhafi, but then clearly that is not the case.

ROBERTSON: And that is really what we've seen on the ground here. He had said this afternoon through the announcement of a letter that was sent to the French president and the British prime minister and the U.N. Secretary General that the U.N. Resolution is invalid, that the United Nations has no -- has no authority to strike inside a sovereign nation, and essentially turning back what he'd had informed the foreign minister tell us yesterday.

There was an acceptance of the cease-fire, an acceptance of the U.N. Resolution this throws that all back in the face of the international community. And as we've seen with his forces outside Benghazi today, the reality on the ground is something very different to what his government ministers were telling us.

Interesting to hear from Secretary Hillary Clinton saying today that he would have to pull his forces back from Zawiyah, which are much further in the west of the country closer to Tripoli. In Zawiyah the rebel forces were destroyed by the government here a week and a half ago. It seems impossible to imagine how the Libyan government would pull out of that city right now. They face no opposition there, nobody on the ground to force them out.

And hard for the international community, one would imagine, to use air strikes to force the government out of that populated city. But such is what we're hearing and such the things Moammar Gadhafi will now have to ponder, his army being struck in the field. And if they're planning attacks tonight, the implications would be very clear -- Fredricka, Hala.

WHITFIELD: Yes, I guess you wonder, is that simply a threat, a threat of more to come an act of intimidation?

ROBERTSON: It's hard to say at this stage. Moammar Gadhafi and his government have shown the intention, it appears, to want to continue to take the battle to the rebels and continue to make -- get results on the ground before international intervention could take place.

Now that intervention has started, will they back down or will they continue to try to push ahead. There will be difficulties for the international community in the strikes that it wants to perform, but we had heard that there would be a need to take out radar positions first, but that seems not to have been the case. Military action taking out military -- Libyan military vehicle on the ground without reports of radar insulations and such like being targeted already.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic Robertson, thanks so much in Libya, appreciate that.

GORANI: All right. Let's take you to London now, Fawaz Gerges is a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, he joins us now live with his take on what's going on.

Thanks for being with us.

France very much taking the lead in all of this. What are your initial thoughts as you're watching all this unfold?

PROF. FAWAZ GERGES, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, I think the war in Libya has just begun and I think this is going to prove to be a very difficult and complex war.

From everything that we have heard, the United States made it very clear it will support as opposed to leading this particular campaign, and as you well know, the Americans have put a great deal of pressure or at least impression that the Arabs basically will take the lead in this particular campaign.

Secretary Clinton has made it -- has said it time and again, that this is a historic relationship between the international community and the Arab world. The question is, what can the Arab states do? The reality is this is more of a symbolic role on the part of the Arab league and the Arab states. The Arab states don't really have much to offer to this particular campaign.

GORANI: Right. They do have, though, military fighter jets to offer. We know the United States sells arms to certain gulf countries that could take part if they wanted to. Why not more of an active role from these Arab nations within the Arab league to give this sort of an Arab flavor rather than a western one?

GERGES: Well, I think that's what Secretary Clinton really is trying to say. That the Arab states are active players. What she really means, the United Arab Emirates and probably Morocco and Iraq to a lesser extent, but remembers she spent also a great deal in the press conference talking about Bahrain and how the United States has impressed on the Gulf cooperation council that they should really engage via position in Bahrain.

Here you have the United States is now coalitionizing (ph) with the United Arab Emirates to take part in the war in Libya, while United Arab Emirates forces intervene in Bahrain to suppress the opposition. It tells you a great deal about the predicament of the United States and that is why the United States is very conscience it does not want to take the lead in this particular campaign because of sensitivities. It wants the United States want to support the campaign as opposed to really taking the lead in this particular fight.

GORANI: So this is very interesting. Because on the one hand you have the U.S. of course speaking out against Moammar Gadhafi, supporting an effort to protect civilians in Libya. On the other hand, they have allies in gulf countries, such as Bahrain as you mentioned, where some of these forces including the UAE are doing two seemingly contradictory things. Where will this all go from --

GERGES: You're absolutely --

GORANI: Yes, but therefore where will it all go from original perspective?

GERGES: Absolutely. Not just the United Arab Emirates, you're talking about Saudi Arabia, you're talking about Qatar which supported the intervention council in Bahrain.

Let's take a look at the scenario. Once you start military operations, there are unforeseen consequences. The questions on the table are the following, how many civilian casualties in Libya will the international community tolerate?

As you know, Moammar Gadhafi has already inserted his forces within the areas that is the air power on its own cannot decide the battle in Libya. Gadhafi controls more than 80 percent of the territories. He controls more than 80 percent of the population.

Secondly, Moammar Gadhafi, you'll see him today, tonight and tomorrow saying this is all about western imperialism and American imperialism.

Once you have civilian casualties in Libya, it will change the dynamics regionally and internationally. You can imagine Moammar Gadhafi taking CNN correspondent and show them an operation, a military campaign that basically results in civilian casualties in Libya.

The reality is, even though Secretary Clinton and the president have made it very clear, and even President Sarkozy, the French president, that the goal of the campaign is to protect civilians, look at what Secretary Clinton said.


GERGES: The goal is to create - is to create conditions in Libya that will bring about the toppling of Moammar Gadhafi. These are the conditions, very ambitious goals. The reality is, will Arab power on --

GORANI: But, just to jump in, you make a very good point. Because when you have airstrikes, therefore you take the risk that these airstrikes will eventually at some point, and it's happened in the past in other airstrike situations, will kill civilians.

It's not a clean -- it's not a clean operation, necessarily, and it's also not a two-day operation. We're looking at weeks, maybe months, right?

GERGES: Absolutely. And you know more than I do that Moammar Gadhafi is a thug, and a violent man. He will do everything in his power to basically get civilians basically in harm's way, most of his forces now in the territories, you know how air power function.

There are no surgical strikes, as we well know. Once casualties take place in Libya, you can imagine how the Gadhafi regime would exploit this particular situation. You asked me a question about the Arab states.

Look at the position of the Arab league. The Arab league has made it very clear. The support in no-fly zone over Libya, yet at the same time, the Arab league has made it very clear they are against western intervention, military intervention in Libya.

What this tells you is that the leaders, Arab leaders, are fully aware of sensitivities in their own countries, that is Arab public opinion could easily change and shift. And I think here President Obama -- President Obama was extremely, extremely sensitive and he resisted the temptation to intervene militarily.

I fear -- I fear, even though the united states is not leading the operation now, once the conflict escalate escalates, the United States will own this operation. That's my fear, is that in the next few days this will become an American operation consciously or unconsciously, the United States will own the war in Libya.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder, you say within the next few days. What is going to be the tipping point, in your view, that would involve engaging Americans in a much greater way?

GERGES: Well, I mean, think about it now. The conflict, that's why I said -- I said the war has just started. The French fired the first shot in this particular war. You're going to have multiple operations. Secretary Clinton made it very clear, enforcement will begin.

President Obama made it very clear with urgency. You are going to see bombings all over Libya in the next few hours and next few days and what if some pilots are captured by the Libyan authorities? The reality is only the United States of America has the capacity to wage a prolonged air campaign over Libya.

And ultimately whether the Obama administration likes it or not, the Obama administration will own the war in Libya. And that's why president Obama was very resistant initially to any kind of military intervention. And that's why Secretary Clinton has insisted that the Arab world will take an active part in this particular war.

The Arab world will not take an active role in this war. It's a European campaign, plus Canada, plus the United States, which is symbolic, very minor role for the Arab states over Libya.

WHITFIELD: So I also hear you saying then these initial efforts being backed by this coalition will ultimately backfire?

GERGES: My fear, and as we have seen throughout, I mean, major military campaigns in the Middle East. The Middle East is a highly fragile, highly volatile, highly complex place. There's a great deal of anti-western sentiments. My fear is that Gadhafi, who is a very thug and a nasty man, has already positioned himself and his forces to say that he is fighting western imperialism and American imperialism.

And if civilian casualties occur in Libya, you're going info to see a great deal of public opinion shifting in that part of the world.

And my fear also the opposition in Libya might be tainted if western interventions lead to a great number of Libyan casualties.

GORANI: If you look at all public opinion coming out of the Middle East right now, and I've read a great deal of it, a lot of it is in support of what France is doing in terms of taking the lead in Libya right now.

So if you have civilian casualties, if that's expected, do you think that it will shift the mood and the opinion? Because that's not a guaranteed shift, necessarily, going forward.

GERGES: I have no doubts in my mind, based on everything that I know, once Libyan civilian casualties occur, once the western campaign basically kills civilians in Libya, you're going to see a gradual and swift shift in public opinion throughout the region.

Remember, we're talking about a very fragile situation, a very complex environment. People would like Gadhafi to go. That's no question about it. The question is, are they suspicious basically of a more potent western operation.

That's why they say this is why it tells you a great deal about how difficult the Arab position -- we support a no-fly zone, but we do not support western military intervention. Give me a break here. You know more than I do --

GORANI: You can't have both things, can you? So it's one on or the other, right?

GERGES: Absolutely. A no-fly zone is really western intervention. If you want the west and the United States and France and Britain and Canada to enforce a no-fly zone to protect civilians, to prevent Gadhafi from killing citizens what you are saying, destroy the air capacity, the military infrastructure of Gadhafi.

And this has become more difficult because time is not on the side of the west, as you know, because his forces now are all stationed in urban areas all over Libya. It's a very difficult situation. I don't envy the west. I think we have to intervene in order to save civilians in Libya. I have no doubts in my mind about that.

GORANI: Thanks very much, Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics joining us from London there with his analysis on the situation.

It's interesting to see what others are saying now. I have seen a great deal of enthusiasm coming from Arab countries with regards to this operation enforcing the no-fly zone. Will it shift, won't it, what will happen on the ground, it's all a very fast of open story.

WHITFIELD: It clearly cuts both ways and we're seeing that in this dialogue, and when we come back, we've got new images to he so you, too. We've mentioned about the arsenal, the French arsenal under way, frigates, aircraft carries as well as planes. We've got new pictures of that right after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back.

Our continuing coverage, not only are there French airplanes flying over Libya right now, as a result of the vote yesterday with the no-fly zone of the U.N. Security Council.

But now we also are hearing confirmation that one of those French jets actually targeted and hit a military vehicle as well and now you're looking at pictures at some of the arsenal that the French are supplying.

GORANI: And these are images of the French jets before they took off, I understand. There they are getting ready to take off on their mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

How complicated or how easy this will be of course remains an open question over Libya. Arwa Damon is in eastern Libya with more. Were you at al able to witness or hear a French fighter jet taking aim at a military vehicle today, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): No, Hala, that we were not able to witness. We were on the outskirts of Benghazi a few hours ago we heard what we believed to be the sound of a fighter jet overhead, but we did not actually see anything firing.

We're actually back in the city of Benghazi right now. There has been something of an eerie calm. A quiet has descended on it other than sporadic gunfire in the air. That we're told of celebration because the opposition says that it managed to drive out Gadhafi's forces survived yet another day of this ongoing onslaught.

People also, of course, those who have managed to hear about the French planes overhead, very relieved, smiling, laughing, finally believing again that they have a fighting chance. The battle here in Benghazi was very intense earlier in the day.

Gadhafi's forces tried to enter the city and did in fact enter the city from the southern part of it, from that main road leading from Ajdabiya. Ten have been killed according to the military spokesman for the opposition. He said that Gadhafi's forces entered using around or having around 90 tanks.

He says that the opposition managed to capture seven of those. They also managed to capture seven of Gadhafi's soldiers, among them some senior officers. The military spokesman also telling us that on a building on the main road that Gadhafi's forces entered off, that they were using to fire artillery from, they found 13 men who were wearing military uniforms, their hands were bound behind their backs and they were shot execution style.

The military believes they have no way to confirm this, but he believes these were soldiers that perhaps refused to partake in the battle and were then executed. They were down at one part of the city that sustained heavy tank damage. There we saw one of the tanks that the opposition says they captured. The road was torn up from the tank tracks.

And there were a number of buildings, one was a furniture store, one was a pharmacy, and one was a residential building that had sustained damage. Residents in the area telling us it was from tank fire. One man who we spoke to who was right off of that main road said that Gadhafi's forces, as they came in and were firing, were laughing the entire time, Hala.

GORANI: Wow. That -- that's very interesting, account, of what happened in Benghazi today. I've got to ask you though right now, you are reporting that the situation is, what, in Benghazi exactly?

DAMON: Right now, Hala, as far as we can tell, the situation appears to be calm. We have not heard any explosions for hours now. And as far as we can tell, and according to what the opposition military spokesman is telling us, Gadhafi ease forces are now 50 kilometers east of Benghazi.

That being said, the opposition is readying itself for yet another attack. They do not expect that Gadhafi would be giving up this easy. But it does seem that for the time being, the situation, the city of Benghazi does remain formerly in control of the opposition, Hala.

WHITFIELD: All right. Arwa Damon, thanks so much. Coming to us from northeast Libya there.

Meantime, let's go to New York and get the latest on the U.N. and its response. Richard Roth joining us now. Any reaction, actually, coming from New York? Any reaction now coming from all that's taking place in Libya?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's always a diplomatic calm in New York after they've done the big resolution, number 1973, which is an interesting number. It reminds me of the big Yom Kippur war also in the Middle East not too far from Libya, between Israel and Arab nations.

Here are some other observations. That Security Council vote was quite tense Thursday night. Many people may not have been familiar with the back and forth, but the South African ambassador was not exactly physically present in the council chambers, as things were getting ready, and the U.S. was worried that South Africa was waffling and wobbling and the U.S. needed at least nine votes with no vetoes. Nine yes votes.

The final vote, 10 in favor, five abstentions, including Brazil where President Obama is. So Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador, was doing the tough diplomatic work in the U.N. Security Council while the French and British had been preparing a no-fly resolution.

As Libya tanks, Libyan forces kept advancing on the rebels, the base pace of the diplomacy increased and the harder language was put in by Susan Rice seeing that she thought she could get it by. The Russians were very interested, Hala and Fredricka, in a cease-fire resolution.

That was not welcomed by too many other countries. It was folded into this resolution. The Russian called for a cease-fire, that they're hoping that Gadhafi will live up to that, but it doesn't appear so.

And you remember when colonel Gadhafi spoke before the U.N. General Assembly a year and a few months ago, he ripped up a page of the U.N. Charter. This is a bizarre world leader on the stage for over 40 years. It's always tough to read him. This could be the cagey Gadhafi as our guests and reporters have spoken about.

It is very hard to read how he's going to play this. Wait it out, hope that there can be some buffer zone established, see if he is the target of aggression personally and then plead his case to the world.

One final note, there is a major U.N. vote on something called the responsibility to protect. Gadhafi may say there's no legitimacy for this action, but all of the nations did sign on to this in the wake of Rwanda and other atrocities that the world can come to the aid of civilians who are being attacked by their own government. Yes, it's very inconsistent and not always lived up to.

WHITFIELD: So, Richard, you mention South Africa, but I wonder about other African nations. Where are they on the support or lack thereof, of Libya?

ROTH: The African union never really went along with the ruling by the Arab league calling for a no-fly zone, worried about military intervention. But the Security Council in the end, Nigeria, Gabon, and South Africa, did vote for this resolution.

It's just a whole new environment, as we've seen going on in that part of the world. And a lot of powers in the world see this as an opportunity, you heard Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, called this a historic importance, the Arab league request for in effect a possible attack on one of their own members, now suspended, Libya.

WHITFIELD: All right, Richard Roth in New York, thanks so much for that.

GORANI: When we come back, we're going to talk about Japan, that continuing story as well. Stepped up efforts today, Fredricka, to stop the radiation leak at the crippled nuclear plant in Japan. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right, as action continues over Libya with French fighter jets flying over and targeting military jet, we know we heard from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moments ago.

GORANI: Moments ago, it was a crisis summit in Paris led by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president. She spoke with reporters a short time ago and this is part of what she said.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So let me be very clear about the position of the United States. We will support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of Resolution 1973.

As you may know, French planes are already in the skies above Benghazi. Now, America has unique capabilities, and we will bring them to bear to help our European and Canadian allies and Arab partners stop further violence.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Elise Labott is with Secretary Clinton and she's joining us as well from Paris.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: Actually, Fred, I'm here in Washington. I'm keeping a close eye on what Secretary Clinton said. As you know, she has been talking about really having Arab support.

The U.S. wants the Arabs to have skin in the game. It is not just that the United States doesn't want to be seen as leading this coalition. It doesn't want to be seen as invading yet another Muslim country, but the U.S. doesn't want to be a scapegoat here.

The Arabs endorsed this. The Arab league said that they supported a no-fly zone. Clinton said to a lot of Arab leaders over the last several days, OK, you support a no-fly zone. We want you there along with us. We want to have your planes.

We don't want you to say you support us and then we go in and you're blaming us the next day. So really the U.S. wants step by step to be in lock step with the Arabs. It's really unique seeing the Arabs authorizing force against one of the Arab-league members.

WHITFIELD: Well, it is unique and very interesting because even in the Q and A with Secretary Clinton. The question was asked, you know, is this is effort to get rid of Gadhafi and she said, you know, the primary objective is to, quote, "protect the civilians from its own government."

So she didn't quite want to say, it's the removal, that's the objective, the removal of Gadhafi. But of course, the opposition, people in Libya are saying that he is the problem. He needs to be removed. LABOTT: Right. Well, the primary objective of the no-fly zone is to protect civilians and obviously, that is going to entail neutralizing Gadhafi's air defenses, but if you read the resolution very carefully. It has a lot of wiggle room.

It talks about possibly arming the opposition. It talks about using frozen assets of Gadhafi to help the Libyan people. So the no- fly zone is really a first step and then you know what the U.S. officials and their allies have been talking about the next few days what happens next.

As we've been talking about what they hope is to create this kind of buffer zone where Gadhafi gets out of the east. You have this buffer zone between the east and west and then what happens next?

Perhaps there's some training of the opposition and arming of the opposition. Kind of setting up as we saw in Iraq when you have you know, the north in Kurdistan and Saddam Hussein in the rest of the country.

So it's really going to be interesting what happens. Secretary Clinton said the primary objective is to protect civilians, but she also said that these chains of events will hopefully have people around Gadhafi act.

What does that mean? Hopefully, the factions. We've heard, you know, behind the scenes, a lot of officials are saying, well, what's going to happen. Perhaps those around Gadhafi, there is a lot of suspicion that someone close to Gadhafi might actually kill him.

So it's really unclear what is going to happen, but this no-fly zone is really the first step to protect civilians. Clearly it's going to be going on for quite a long time.

WHITFIELD: Elise Labott, thanks so much. The State Department producer coming to us from Washington.

GORANI: The U.S. group will not to imply in any way that this is a regime-change effort. That's a very loaded term and that wasn't popular at all in the world. So it is also a PR - it's finesse in terms of PR --

WHITFIELD: This is diplomacy at its highest level.

GORANI: That's right. We will be right back with the latest on the crisis in Japan. Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: We will get back to all that's taking place in Libya in a moment, but first now the crisis in Japan.

Another strong aftershock has rattled nerves there as the death toll from last week's quake and tsunami climbs.

Today's aftershock was a magnitude 5.9. It's epicenter about 60 miles south of Fukushima. That's the same region as the damaged nuclear power plant and there is also a new worry today about the food supply.

Tests have detected radiation in milk and spinach samples from the areas near the plant. The levels are low, but still above the legal standard.

And at the nuclear plant, a device is now spraying seawater continuously to cool down one of the overheated reactors. Crews also have connected electric cables to power up the reactor cooling systems.

Also, a revised death toll now from last week's quake and tsunami, it is now at more than 7,300 with nearly 11,000 people still missing.

I'm joined now by CNN contributor and international security expert Jim Walsh.

So, Jim, let's talk a little bit more about the reactors. This water that is being sprayed continuously, how does that help?

JIM WALSH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it helps because it keeps the reactors cooler. It's all about heat. That is why the cooling pumps are important. That's why the water is important. I would say the big picture here, Fredricka, is that we have gone now into another day and nothing bad has happened. That is a victory.

You know, we've had a series of days where new bad things happened every day and each day that passes that something traumatic doesn't happen is a day where those first reactors, reactors one, two and three cooled down a little more, cool down a little more and then we have sort of stabilized the situation with reactors five and six.

But reactor four, with the nuclear waste that is being stored in the spent fuel ponds, that continues to be a concern. There is disagreement between Americans and Japanese officials about how bad that is. But anything we can do to reduce the number of problems down from six down to one or two, that's good news.

WHITFIELD: And so that tank holding the nuclear waste, what could be problem too is that there may be a leak or a hole?

WALSH: That is the nature of the disagreement between the American and Japanese officials. Americans officials are saying off the record that they think there is a hole in it, which is why as when they continue to pour water, it seems as if the water level is not rising as fast as it should. And so that is the concern.

As one of my colleagues here at CNN pointed out, if water is leaking out, then we should see or find water that is leaking out. That is one of the things to look for.

But overall, good news, a day where radiation readings on the plant seemed to have stabilized. That is good. But as you said at the top, we had another aftershock today. You don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. You hope and pray this gets a little better every day.

WHITFIELD: Jim Walsh, thank you. I want to talk to you about the radiation levels in the spinach and milk. We'll talk about that momentarily.