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U.S., Allies Fire on Libya; Operation Odyssey Dawn Under Way; Coalition Attacks in Libya

Aired March 19, 2011 - 18:00   ET



French jets take off. The allied gauntlet comes down. A coalition of Western and Arab states launching the first strikes on Libya.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Joins in firing missiles against Moammar Gadhafi's forces around Tripoli and Misrata. The allies goal to stop Gadhafi from butchering his own people to stay in power.

BLITZER: At this hour the besieged town of Benghazi is in tatters we're told, but still in the control of the rebels. After days of pleading for help they're getting it right now. The international community responding with decisive force.

Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We want to welcome you to a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington and joined by Jonathan Mann in Atlanta.

Jon, this is going to be a very, very ferocious fight given everything we know about Moammar Gadhafi, his sons, those most loyal to him. They are not going to give up really quickly.

MANN: Nearly 25 years after the U.S. attacked Moammar Gadhafi's Libya back in 1986, more attacks, more than 100 cruise missiles, Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's what we know right now at this hour. The coalition includes American, European and Arab League nations. It's the largest international military action in an Arab state since the invasion of Iraq.

MANN: They're operating under a United Nations resolution authorizing force. The fighter jets the first portion. It includes enforcement of a no-fly zone.

BLITZER: President Obama keeping a very close eye on what's going on in Libya right now even while talking trade in Brazil. The country abstained from the no-fly zone vote at the United Nations Security Council and when the crisis in Libya began there were rumors that Gadhafi might even flee to Brazil. All this is providing an interesting context while these economic talks in Brasilia go on. Here's what the president of the United States had to say about the situation earlier in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday the international community demanded an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to all attacks against civilians. Today Secretary Clinton joined an international coalition of our European and Arab partners in Paris to discuss how we will enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

Our consensus was strong and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected. And in the absence of an immediate ends to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act and act with urgency. And I am briefing the President Rousseff on the steps that we are taking.


BLITZER: Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent is in Brasilia. He's traveling with President Obama right now. Ed is joining us live.

Ed, I know the president, the secretary of Defense and secretary of State were all initially very reluctant to get involved militarily. But now after a month of brutality and fighting, they are directly involved. And I think it's fair to say even though the president is down-playing the U.S. role for all practical purposes, at least right now, this becomes Obama's war.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In part, Wolf. What's interesting symbolically is the president came out and revealed to the world he was authorizing U.S. force as part of the military action on the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Why is that so significant? Obviously people around the world skeptical about unilateral U.S. military action. So there was no accident, U.S. officials say, that French planes were taking the lead on this whole operation at the start of it, early today, before the U.S. started launching those missiles.

And also that's why in the president's message and Secretary Clinton's message, you have heard them keep saying over and over again this is a broad international coalition. They'll continue to hammer that point. Also the president making clear, here in Brazil, there will be absolutely no U.S. ground troops as part of this operation. He knows that the American people, in particular, are weary about all the ground troops that have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. Also, the president casting himself as a reluctant warrior, basically saying he understands the risks involved in any military action. But basically the U.S. and its allies could no longer, in his words, stand idly by as Colonel Gadhafi continued to kill some of his own people.

As if to underline that point about limited U.S. involvement a senior U.S. official revealed to me, the president's thinking on this, saying, quote, "In terms of the heavy kinetic portion of this military action the president envisions it lasting days, not weeks. After that we'll take more of a supporting role."

Interesting as well, Wolf, some pressure on the administration to maybe cut this trip short. The president's top aide saying he's got no plans to leave Latin America early. It's on to Rio tomorrow and then Chile, as well as El Salvador. He wants to on one hand keep that first track going, talking about the economy, trade, U.S. jobs, but also trying to stay on top of the situation in Libya, a very serious urgent situation there on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting any assessment from White House officials as to how long they think it will be before Gadhafi either gives up or caves in to all the international demands or is dead?

HENRY: Well, you know, it's very interesting because Ben Rhodes, one of the president's most senior aides on the National Security Council got that question a short time ago, from reporters, and basically could not give a clear answer to whether even the U.S. believes that Colonel Gadhafi will have to step aside. They realize at this point they've put a lot of pressure on him. They're still hopeful he'll step aside. They have been putting pressure on the people around him even before this military operation urging them to step aside before they are held accountable down the road for war crimes, et cetera. But they are very noncommittal about how long this will last in the long run because they realize they've got to be very careful and let this military action speak for itself and then see how all this unfolds.

BLITZER: Ed Henry traveling with the president in Brasilia. We'll stay in very close touch. Ed, thanks very much.

Jonathan Mann is with us for the next two hours.

Jon, you know it's very interesting that Pentagon officials point out that the U.S., the coalition partners, whether the Europeans or the Arab countries, they will go after what are called command and control facilities in Libya. Now, the commander in chief in Libya is Colonel Gadhafi himself. In other words, if they go after a command and control site where Gadhafi happens to be, he could wind up dead if a Tomahawk cruise missile goes in or some other missile goes in. So it's clear what the international objective is. Undermine that command and control capability whether or not Gadhafi happens to be there.

MANN: Well, I know, Wolf, you're getting high level briefings. So let me ask you if you know more than the rest of us do. Is the goal here to protect the civilians, who are named in that U.N. Security Council resolution? Is the goal to protect the rebels and undermine Moammar Gadhafi, or is the goal here, really, regime change by another name?

BLITZER: I don't think there's any doubt in the end they want regime change although in the narrow term, in the next few days or weeks, the goal is to protect the civilians, the rebels, the opposition.

But president Obama has said repeatedly over these past couple of weeks Gadhafi must go. That's the U.S. goal for Gadhafi to go, whether he's going to go voluntarily or not so voluntarily, the U.S. goal is definitely regime change in the long run. Because they don't believe there can be civilians who will be protected as long as Gadhafi continues to be in charge of Libya.

MANN: Wolf, let's go to Libya now. A spokesman for the Gadhafi government calling the coalition offensive barbaric and he says civilians are suffering as a result. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Libya's capital, Tripoli.

Nic, I gather the sound of anti-aircraft guns is ringing out there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. They seem to be coming from Moammar Gadhafi's palace where we were a couple of hours ago. It was interesting because when we went in on the front lawn, when you go through the first sort of ring of security, there was a group of people, perhaps 30, 40, 50 people with their green flags chanting, and singing pro Gadhafi songs.

But as we left an hour and a half, two hours later after the first round of Tomahawk cruise missiles had hit the country, and some of them apparently not far from Tripoli, that crowd had disappeared. And what was in its place was a large anti-aircraft gun being manned by several soldiers and it seemed to have been fairly recently dug into that lawn. Then as we came out beyond another gate of security we saw more soldiers on anti-aircraft guns.

What we're hearing coming from that compound now, it sounds very much like these soldiers practicing on these weapons. Perhaps they haven't used these types of weapons very much in the past, but certainly the sounds that were coming up, sporadic gunfire, there's nothing apparently in the sky for them to shoot at, but those sounds certainly coming up.

And we've seen more security out on the streets as we came through the city, government buildings being protected by armed civilians, traffic intersections being protected or controlled by armed police. And very little traffic out on the streets as we came back towards our hotel here. Perhaps an hour or so, hour and a half, after those first missiles hit Libya. There goes some more -- we can hear it right there, some more anti-aircraft gunfire going off, Jon, Wolf.

MANN: How much do the people of Libya know about what the coalition is doing? Are they aware that they're under attack, that they've been struck by, for example, more than 100 U.S. cruise missiles or by French fighter planes?

ROBERTSON: You know, I asked a couple of people that. I spoke at this rally to a man who introduced himself to me as a doctor and a university professor, and another gentleman I believe was a university professor. Both apparently well educated. Both spoke excellent English. And both told me that they just don't listen to foreign news because they don't trust it. They said they've only now come to trust Libyan state television, which may sound strange to our viewers. But this is what they told me. And they're ignoring everything they hear on other stations because they think it's just lies and rumor.

And, frankly, they say it worries them and they say they're not bothered about the country being struck by the outside at the moment. It makes them angry. They are worried about their families, worried about how all this is going to play out in the future. But this is a very sort of defiant message that they wanted to communicate. That it really doesn't matter what the international community does. And of course this is what Moammar Gadhafi wants the image to be put across and this is what he's trying to sort of drum up support for him on television, and support for him with having government officials come out and making these statements. Making the statements, as we heard just a little while ago, saying we're innocent. We've held by the ceasefire.

MANN: Now, you are in Tripoli which is Moammar Gadhafi's capital, his stronghold. Let me ask you about the rebels' stronghold Benghazi, which is far to the east. Benghazi is, of course, now under the protection of the French air force, which has declared it about 100 kilometers one way, 150 kilometers the other way. The center of the French no-fly zone, this after the latest assault by Gadhafi forces trying to retake that rebel stronghold. Do you have any news at all about the situation in Benghazi and the government's plans for some kind of re-conquest of the city?

ROBERTSON: The government had seemed intent on that. And they, certainly, when we were on the front line a couple of days ago just outside of Ajdabiya, the soldiers we talked to said that that is where they were going, Benghazi. And everything you saw on the ground this morning, tanks rolling into the city, seemed to support that. We haven't had any updated information from government officials. What they've told us about the situation in the east is that they're abiding by the ceasefire. That's what they maintain and tell us here.

So we don't have an accurate picture of what's happening. And also we don't have an accurate picture of the impact to the military forces of these strikes, to the command and control, and whether or not this has already sent a strong enough message to Moammar Gadhafi to tell his army to stop their attacks in Misrata and Benghazi. It's just not clear at this stage to us at all, Jon.

MANN: Any indication of whether the coalition nations are going to get more than simply the protection of civilians -- whether they're going to get -- and many leaders have been clear about this -- Moammar Gadhafi to resign and flee? Does this look like a regime weaker today than it was on Wednesday or Thursday when that U.N. Security Council resolution was passed?

ROBERTSON: It's very hard to say, because we see the surface here. It's the surface that's presented to us on state television. Beneath the surface, we know in this city, for example, there are people opposed to Moammar Gadhafi's rule. What we've seen -- and these people are afraid to come out and talk to us. What we've seen is people generally become much stronger in their tone of support for Gadhafi, for his government, for his regime and for his family, in fact. They are sort of rallying behind him.

This is not something that's peculiar to the situation in Libya. We've seen this in other countries. In Iraq, for example, when it was targeted in 2003 and Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in the first beginnings of the attacks there, by the international coalition, people rallied behind the leadership there. So it's not unusual to hear that rhetoric here. And it's very hard to penetrate and get beyond whether this is just rhetoric or whether people feel they have to speak this way to us as foreigners.

But it is -- I do have to say when people communicate this to us, it is very passionate and they do give the impression that as the country comes under more international attack, the stronger people are going to rally behind Gadhafi. And some of these people that we're talking to are people who have expressed doubt about his government when we first arrived here a few weeks ago, and now much sort of stronger in their support for him, Jon.

MANN: In Moammar Gadhafi's capital they're firing their anti-aircraft guns. CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Tripoli. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: I doubt if those anti-aircraft guns, Jon, are going to do much good against Tomahawk cruise missiles. The U.S. military says today's strikes in Libya are just the first stage, just the beginning of what's likely to be a multi-phased operation. That's what they're saying. Those comments come as dozens -- 110 specifically, maybe 112 Tomahawk missiles rained down on strategy targets in the western part of Libya. Our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now with details. They've been open about what they've done so far although they leave vague what they're about to do in the next phase.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. What they've done is a very focused targeted mission, specifically on the northern coast of Libya on the western side of the country, going specifically after one thing, the so-called SA5s. These are surface- to-air ballistic missiles that have a top range of just under 200 miles offshore. That was the primary worry. As you mentioned, the Pentagon launched about 110 Tomahawk missiles from both U.S. Navy subs and ships, as well as a British sub, as well.

They say they hit about 20 targets. But now they're in the process of waiting for daylight to get a better assessment of exactly how much of these targets were destroyed. But Pentagon officials say all of this was just the first step.


VICE ADMIRAL WILLIAM GORTNEY, U.S. NAVAL CENTRAL COMMAND: At this point, we are creating the conditions to be able to set up the no-fly zone. And once we have established and confirmed that the conditions are right, then we will move forward into the next -- one of the next phases of the campaign.


LAWRENCE: So what would that next phase be, if we can? Take a look at this graphic and it will sort of illustrate exactly what's taken place so far. What is going to be happening over the next couple of days, and eventually what the no-fly zone may look like. You can see on this graphic, if we can -- you can see where some of the dots are. Towards the top of Libya some of those are where the air strikes were -- happened earlier today. Those are where most of Colonel Gadhafi's air defenses were set up, as you can tell a lot of them near the capital of Tripoli.

The red area is what the no-fly zone will be. Once they have mastered the air, so to speak, and have air security, they'll start to fly in patterns covering that part. You can see it's only covering the northern part of Libya. Pentagon officials say with a country as massive as Libya, you've got to concentrate the resources where they will do the most good and that is where most of Colonel Gadhafi's forces are centered. They also say that his ground forces are not necessarily of the table as targets, because they too could carry some anti-aircraft capability. Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, are they acknowledging at the Pentagon that the missile strikes, 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles going after targets inside Libya, that this is an act of war?

LAWRENCE: They're not calling it that necessarily, Wolf. But any time you fire Tomahawk missiles at ground sites in a country, it does constitute a hostile action. I mean, these Tomahawks fly very close to the ground. They are programmed with a target before they're launched. And they have an ability to go around both natural and manmade obstacles. And when they hit their target, they explode. So when these Tomahawks hit, it is by its very nature a very violent action.

BLITZER: As of right now, Chris -- correct me if I'm wrong -- the U.S. military is in charge of this entire operation but they're hoping over the next few days to hand over command and control primary responsibility to other NATO allies?

LAWRENCE: Correct. There is a joint task force commander so to speak. He's on the U.S.S. Mt. Whitney, which is sort of a command and control ship that allows a lot of communication to go out and coordination efforts. He's in charge of the operation so far, from the U.S. point of view, but again you're absolutely right, in the next few days they expect to step back, take a lesser role, and hand over control and command to a coalition commander.

BLITZER: So once the U.S. can do what it can uniquely do, soften up the targets, get rid of the anti-aircraft missile batteries, the radar equipment, deal with their runways if they want to start destroying some of those runways, so that Libyan aircraft can't take off. Once they do all that, then they feel the allies, the French, the British, the Italians, the Spaniards, maybe some of the Arab air forces, United Arab Emirates or Qatar, Saudi Arabia, maybe Jordan, they then might be able to fly over easily and not worry about their planes being shot down?

LAWRENCE: That's exactly right and that is the first step. You take out the air defenses so the pilots are able to fly more freely and are able to take surveillance of certain areas. But they didn't even use all of their capabilities. Some of the capabilities we know they have are to jam some of the communications on some of these sites, these surface-to-air sites. Officials say they didn't have to use that capability in this case, that simply firing the Tomahawks was enough as a first step.

BLITZER: And finally, a quick -- a very important question. Is the hope over at the Pentagon based on what you're hearing that a very tougher military posture will convince Gadhafi's senior military officers to see the handwriting on the wall, to split from him, and end this whole civil war, if you will?

LAWRENCE: I think that option is always on the table, Wolf. I think Pentagon officials, taking their lead from the Obama administration, have always sort of given Colonel Gadhafi this way out, so to speak. If he were to pull back from Benghazi, if he were to stand down some of his troops, there could be a way to work -- to work out some sort of a settlement. But Pentagon officials that I spoke with say so far they have not seen that. One official said, he called for the ceasefire and then violated it himself. So they just don't see the evidence right now of him backing down.

BLITZER: All right. Chris Lawrence is going to be with us. He's our man at the Pentagon.

Jon, if you take a look at what happened on the first stages of the war in Iraq -- and you and I covered that war back in 2003 -- remember what they did early on. They also started dropping leaflets, pamphlets, telling citizens, get ready, we're on the way. We're not going after you, we're going after Saddam Hussein. I suspect what ware going to see in Tripoli, and elsewhere in Libya, in the not too distant future perhaps some pamphlets being dropped from aircraft telling the citizens we're not at war against you. We are with you. We want to help you, we just want you to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi.

MANN: And you have to wonder, in fact, if Moammar Gadhafi is making the same comparison wondering if his fate is what happened to Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: You've got to believe that is on his mind.

MANN: A united resolve and unified message. It's not too late for Gadhafi to stop all of this. We'll go to Paris for a top level meeting of the coalition when we come back.


MANN: Welcome back. It was an emergency summit. Top-level members of the coalition meeting in Paris to underscore unified resolve. CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty is in Paris and has this report.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the summit really at the last minute, bringing together leaders and top officials from a number of different countries. Certainly from the United States, European countries and Arab and Gulf nations.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jumped on a plane almost at the last minute, came across the Atlantic to be here. It was an important mission because what they wanted to do was not only decide who would do what, and diplomatically, and in other ways. But they also wanted to send a message. As one official said to me, it was kind of like a chest thumping to Moammar Gadhafi, to try to talk to him seriously and tell him that something was going to happen unless he obeyed that U.N. Security Council resolution, which required him, immediately, to stop attacking his own people.

So here at the summit, they were listening and monitoring real-time the action and what was going on, on the ground in Libya. They were talking to their military aides and seeing if anything had changed. But, as secretary Clinton said, nothing had changed and the attacks were going on. They had seen no indication that Moammar Gadhafi was pulling back his troops.

Also, the message secretary Clinton said now from the United States diplomatically is to supporters of Moammar Gadhafi. She said that there have been numerous defections from Gadhafi and that they were hoping for more. Jill Dougherty, CNN, Paris.


BLITZER: The no-fly zone above the rebel-held city Benghazi is there to keep civilians safe. We're getting reports of injuries and evacuations under way right now. We'll have the very latest. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: As the bloodshed in Benghazi has grown in recent days so is the urgency to get out. CNN's Arwa Damon talks to some of the refugees escaping the violence.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (On camera): This is another family that's fleeing. They -- the father was saying that they actually -- he says he saw air strikes. They saw tank rounds firing. They don't know exactly where they're going.

Yeah, they've basically left everything behind and they're fleeing. They're leaving. There's a wounded person in the back of this vehicle here.

This is Fetah (ph), and he was part of a unit that was trying to protect the city of Benghazi, the southern part. They were hit by artillery, by mortars. He's wounded now. He's 23 years old. He says that all he ever wanted to do was fight for his country.

He has shrapnel in both of his legs. He says that he saw Gadhafi's troops with his own eyes. They are saying, welcome, welcome and the man's sign is basically offering safe housing. This is how communities are rallying together trying to help those who are fleeing the fighting. And inside this building we're told are a number of families that have already taken up that offer. This girl is 11 years old. They just left from Benghazi and said she was scared. She says she heard the explosions overnight. She says she saw the tanks, heard the gunfire. This is basically one large extended family here talking about how they didn't sleep at all at night because of the artillery bombardment, the firing.

They arrived here about three hours ago. They don't know how long they're going to stay. They don't know where they're going to go. They don't know what's going to happen to their own country at this point. She's saying her message to the international community is please come and save us.

She says, we were able to get out, but there are other families that are still trapped inside. There are so many more people who are going to be killed and that he is going to basically destroy them she says.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa Damon reporting. More than 100 U.S. cruise missiles from ships offshore. French planes are already in Libyan air space. Our John King will explain what could be on the target list with the help of the magic wall coming up.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

MANN: I'm Jonathan Mann in Atlanta welcoming international viewers around the world as we follow breaking news, the attacks on Libya. Let's get you caught up on what's happening.

French, British and U.S. forces have fired the first shots in what's being called "Operation Odyssey Dawn." The Pentagon says more than 100 Tomahawk missiles took out Libyan military targets.

Earlier French fighter jets were first in the skies over the rebel strong hold of Benghazi and they opened fire on a government vehicle. Their goal, to enforce the no-fly zone and protect the Libyan people.

BLITZER: Witnesses in Benghazi say artillery rounds landed inside the city as pro-Gadhafi tanks rolled in. Many fled homes in fear of a full-blown assault. Meanwhile overhead operation forces lost one of their only jets shot out of air and leaders of the international coalition met in Paris including their Arab allies. They focused on how to take over a Libyan government bent on crushing a fledgling opposition movement.

We're also, by the way, getting the first pictures in from the U.S. Military. These are pictures of Tomahawk cruise missiles, 110 approximately, maybe 112 being launched from U.S. ships and submarines in the Mediterranean going after radar and other anti-aircraft missile systems in Libya.

These are the first pictures released by the U.S. Navy. Our chief national correspondent John King is joining us now here in Washington with more on what's going on. You have a pretty detailed explaining there with the magic map, John. Explain what we know.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let's walk through it. First, the countries highlighted in gold. Some of them, of course, out of place. We just brought then into the map, the United States, Spain, Canada, France, Italy, Great Britain and over here Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Those are the countries who have committed to the coalition as Jonathan Mann just noted. The action today carried by French, British and U.S. military forces.

Let's take a closer look. These are the targets. We know there are about 20 targets all of them along the northern Libyan coast, most in the western part, the key Gadhafi controlled areas, the capital of Tripoli for example.

Now why were the attacks here? Number one, this is the most important part of the country anyway. It's where the oil and gas resources are and where most of the population is. But these, Wolf, right here, these are the key targets early on.

You see these circles, these larger purple circles, those are S-200 in U.S. military lingo S-5 in NATO military lingual. They are Russian made surface-to-air missiles Gadhafi's best. They have a range of about 150 miles. They're older Russian missiles, but they're still dangerous and punishing, and they're targeted first because of their ability to hit coalition aircraft so most of the cruise missiles we are told aimed at these larger aircraft surface-to-air missile sites.

You see the smaller circles. Those are more local anti-aircraft batteries as well. Shorter range they're also among early targets. The goal here is to devastate Gadhafi's ability to use his military to strike coalition targets. Now how is this done?

Let me close this map down for one second and we'll take a closer look at it. The first thing I'd like to bring is this in here and shows you just the U.S. Naval assets that available just offshore. These two are where you want to focus for now, the "USS Stout" and the "USS Barry." Why? They are guided missile destroyers. They have the capability to fire cruise missiles.

And if you bring this up, you will see what was done as you just noted 110, maybe 112 cruise missiles used in the operation. They came from the "USS Stout." They came from the "USS Barry." Cruise missile guided missile destroyers on top of the Mediterranean Sea.

They also came from the "USS Florida" and the "USS Providence." Those are two submarines that carry cruise missiles and a British submarine as well we are told off there. Here's a picture of a Tomahawk cruise missile. It hovers close to the ground. It is programmed on the ship.

There is a newer version that can hover over a target, send back images and then they pick the final target. We are told the ones launched today even though they included some of the newer versions were all programmed on the ships and subs, and sent directly at their targets.

And, Wolf, here's a photographed. You just showed some of th video. This is from the "USS Barry." This is one of those Tomahawk cruise missiles taking off from the ship to make its way inland. Now one more quick look at what's going to happen in the days ahead as we play this out.

I want to pull this other map down. Here are essentially the resources at play here, the French fighter jets, they left from up here earlier. A French carrier, the "Charles De Gaulle" is leaving and that will make its way into the Mediterranean. This is the Libyan coast right here. You see a number of U.S. and NATO facilities in Italy.

They will be in play over the next few days. U.S. Naval Air station over here in Spain as well. As this play out, Wolf, we know early on in the early days we are told look what happened today will be repeated until they minimize and take out these air defenses right up in here and then it will shift to NATO control running up in that area.

But right now for the next 24 to 48 hours expect most of the targeting to be right here, Gadhafi's only ability to shoot up at those coalition jets, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea, John, when the Arab coalition partners -- whether the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, some of the other Arab countries with robust air forces of their own will actually get into this game.

KING: We are told the Qataris and Emiratis will participate in enforcement of the no-fly zone. As of yesterday I had not heard that they're Jordanians or anyone else had agreed to participate. But if you look - if you look, I'll close out the map here. I just want to show since you made that point here, the United States especially think the Emiratis are very prepared for this.

They have the most sophisticated F-16s that the United States sells to international partners and they have trained with the American Air Force. So the Pentagon says look for the Emiratis to be involved early on and the Qataris also have committed to be part of the no-fly zone, their weapons, see if I can get that to come up here.

Their weapons, their main fighter that would be involved here is a French-made fighter from the Qatari Air Force. We are told they should be involved and will be involved in the no-fly zone enforcement.

But, Wolf, in the early next day or two look first before you see -- yes, the French jets with up today, but before you see a lot of jets up in the sky over Libya look for a lot more pounding along the coast to minimize the risk to those pilots.

BLITZER: And I assume in addition to taking out the anti-aircraft missile batteries, the radar equipment, they're going to have to start cratering the runways at the air force bases that the Libyans have. And they're going to have to start jamming all of their electronic equipment to make sure they can't communicate with each other. That would be very demoralizing step for the Libyan military.

KING: And you can be certain the jamming is already under way. The United States have drones in the area. Those ships I showed you out in the Med also have the capability both from the ships and aircraft aboard those ships to jam communications.

As AWACS up above watching everything that Gadhafi does and other intelligence assets so you can be certain the jamming is already under way. You mentioned the Libyan installations. These are air in stations. And again, the ones that matter most are along the northern coast and this will be a key goal and you see it here. You would use fighter jets, bomber jets to do this. This is not from Libya, but a marine operation in the past. You crater the runway to prohibit takeoffs and landings.

They can be filled in, of course, but any time they're filled in from satellite imagery, drones flying above, AWACS aircraft you would see the activity happening out here. So this also would be a target. We've not been told about this happening in the early hours. They're mainly going for the anti-craft installations here.

But you can be certain a key priority take out his ability to take off and land those jets if he doesn't get the message from the initial hours of the bombings, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, all right, good point, John. Thanks very much. John King is with us here in our breaking news coverage in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jon Mann is also with us. There's no doubt, Jon Mann that as the U.S. and its coalition partners go forward they have one tremendous advantage. They have night vision equipment. They can fly. They can attack at night. The Libyans don't necessarily have that advantage.

MANN: It's changed completely. You know, up till now it was a civil war with the government fighting a rag tag group of rebels. Now Moammar Gadhafi finds himself arrayed against the most powerful and sophisticated militaries in the world.

Suddenly things look very different, but there are a lot of nations involved and that's part of all of this as John and the wall spoke so eloquently to it. This is going to be a really international effort.

Coming up, we'll be talking to the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark about how it's going to unfold.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the crisis in Libya right now. There's a war under way. U.S. and British missiles have pounded targets in that country. Let's bring in CNN contributor retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. He's former NATO Supreme Allied commander. He's joining us from Little Rock, Arkansas. General Clark, yesterday when we spoke, you didn't think it was absolutely essential that the U.S. launch these kinds of preemptive strikes to take out Libya's air defense system, its radar in advance of a no-fly zone, but obviously the Pentagon had a different idea.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RETIRED), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the French went in without it, as you can see, but U.S. doctrine, I guess, and desire to protect our flyers calls for this. It works.

It ratchets up the escalation and the French action was appropriate in showing an immediate impact on the ground against Gadhafi.

Now the question really is how the military actions impact Gadhafi's will to sustain himself in the fight. What we're hoping is that the signs of military strength will dissuade him and he'll find a way out.

BLITZER: Based on my years covering the Pentagon, covering these kind of war situations, General Clark, it looks like the U.S. is probably gearing up for a psychological warfare campaign, broadcasting to the Libyan people, getting them ready to assume that Gadhafi is done.

CLARK: Absolutely. That's one of the major elements of war. They will do that. They'll also -- may run another set of strikes tonight. There's no reason to believe that we're limited to one wave of strikes per night. I heard the briefing.

But normally you'd go back in with some other forces maybe in a different direction, Maybe not. It depends. But what has to be done is you have to put enough pressure on Gadhafi that he breaks. Otherwise, you're ending up in some kind of a ground pursuit operation against Gadhafi if he persists in going after the rebels.

Now, if he decides that he'll obey the U.N. Security Council resolution and he may well come out with another decree and stall a little bit and try to convince us to that, then that opens the door someone needs to talk sense into Gadhafi.

In Kosovo you may recall, Wolf that we sent in a delegation consisting of the president of Finland and vice president of Russia went in and they talked to Milosevic and persuaded him that he had no option.

That's how he got out of the bombing campaign and gave in to NATO. In this case, maybe someone will end up going to Gadhafi and saying it's over.

BLITZER: But in the end even though the U.S. and its allies and the United Nations Security Council don't go this far, in the end, what they want is Gadhafi gone, regime change, if you will?

CLARK: They do, but what's artful about the way it's been done so far is that we've got both coalition group in the lead, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, rather than Barack Obama out front. We're in a supporting role politically and we've also not called for regime change. We've emphasized the terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution. This gives us more freedom of action diplomatically and takes the pressure off us and puts it back on Gadhafi.

BLITZER: One final question, I know you're going to be back with us next hour as well. General Clark, for all practical purposes, let's be honest, this is a U.S.-led operation right now, major involvement by France and Britain. But the other countries largely window dressing, including the Arab countries, is that right?

CLARK: Well, can't tell yet, but certainly the Tomahawk strikes had to be coordinated by the United States. That's why they came off the Whitney because you're dealing with very, very sensitive information about Tomahawk targeting.

It's not shared or released by the foreign nationals. That would be U.S.-controlled. But my guess is days go by, we'll see more and more ally participation in this.

BLITZER: I wonder how much Arab participation we'll actually see because that's critical to make it appear at least to the Muslim and Arab world. This is not just another U.S. war against the Muslim or Arab country as in Afghanistan or Iraq. That's politically sensitive stuff.

We'll continue this conversation in the next hour. General Clark, good to have you back here. Jon, this is only just beginning, I must say.

MANN: You're right, Wolf. Up next, a civil war sparked the international military action we're seeing in Libya, but a United Nations Security Council resolution provided the diplomatic cover for it. Five countries chose not to take part and one in particular is not happy, that story coming up.


MANN: Welcome back. Russia had a vote in the U.N. Security Council. In fact, it had a veto, but it chose to abstain instead. Now Moscow says it regrets the armed intervention in Libya as Moammar Gadhafi responds as well.

Let's bring in Richard Roth, our senior U.N. correspondent. Richard, what are they saying?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry says this resolution of the Security Council has been hastily adopted though Russia can't be surprised that the door was open to this military action following the date in the Security Council Thursday night.

Russia, along with four other countries, abstained from the vote. Russia thought that more casualties, more damage on a humanitarian basis could be done. Russia still pleading for a cease-fire, which is not indeed happening. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Ban said in a phone call last night with the Libyan prime minister that he sounded nervous, that he wasn't really sure what was happening. Under the resolution, Jonathan, the secretary general is supposed to tell the Security Council every seven days which countries are doing what to enforce this resolution.

And this is the eighth anniversary of the shock and awe campaign against Iraq. It seems very similar tonight. One never knows where it ends up. And for students of history, Jonathan, it's coming up on the 25th of anniversary of when the U.S. attacked Libya in 1986.

MANN: April '86 in fact. Richard Roth at the U.N., thanks very much. Wolf --

BLITZER: They're really afraid of mission crepe. We'll talk about that more in the next hour. Within the last hour, we have seen the first pictures as coalition forces target Gadhafi's forces.

We're live from the Middle East, from Washington, with the U.S. president in Brazil as this special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM continues.