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A tank belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi explodes after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011.Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Cracks emerged in the supposedly joint Arab-Western coalition of war planes attacking forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi only hours after a massive pounding by more than 100 U.S. cruise missiles pulverized Libya's air defences, reportedly killing scores and wounding many others.

Dismayed by the intensive barrage, the 22-nation Arab League faltered in its backing of American, French and British air strikes, a grave split that could undermine the UN-mandate for limited war to protect rebel-held strongholds, including Benghazi.

Defiant, Colonel Gadhafi dubbed the attacks a "crusade," fostering the notion of Western powers waging war for oil on another Muslim state.

French, British and U.S. warplanes scoured Libyan skies again Sunday but found little to attack. The tanks and artillery poised to strike Benghazi were smouldering wrecks filled with charred corpses from Saturday's initial strikes. Forces loyal to the unpredictable Col. Gadhafi had - at least in the east - abandoned military vehicles and were fleeing toward the leader's strongholds of Surt and Tripoli.

Canada's six CF-18 fighter-bombers remained on the ground at an Italian air base in Sicily, not yet ready to join the mostly Western warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.

Arab air forces, purportedly pledged to join the fray, had not arrived. Only one, tiny Qatar, said it remained committed to sending war planes.

While President Barack Obama has tried to portray his country's role as supportive - with France and Britain in the lead - the reality was different. All but a handful of the 112 cruise missiles (unmanned jet-engine-powered flying bombs each tipped with a half-tonne of high-explosive warheads and capable of pinpoint accuracy) were fired from half-a-dozen U.S. warships and a British submarine offshore. Four massive B-52 bombers, each carrying 30-tonnes of bombs also hit 20 Libyan targets - runways, radars, missile sites.

By comparison, the handful of laser-guided bombs dropped by French war planes that destroyed tanks and armoured personnel carriers outside Benghazi attacked much media attention but paled compared with the scale and military significance of the U.S. strikes. Jubilant rebels examined the burned-out tanks and charred bodies on the outskirts of Benghazi.

The Arab League, whose support was called vital by Mr. Obama and tipped the balance in getting United Nations Security Council backing for limited war against Col. Gadhafi, lashed out at the scale of the air strikes and unconfirmed reports of hundreds killed by the cruise missile barrage.

"What we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians," said Amr Moussa, the Arab League's Secretary-General. War planes promised by several Arab states have yet to fly missions over Libya and any cracking of the coalition could buttress Col. Gadhafi's claim that Western powers were attacking another Muslim country under the pretext of protecting a pro-democracy uprising.

Howls of outrage also came from Syria, where the security forces also opened fired on protesters this weekend. Washington's close Arab allies - notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia voiced no support. Meanwhile, countries usually hostile to Washington denounced the mission as war aimed at securing Libya's oil fields.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tried to portray U.S. military might as secondary. "We will support an international coalition," she said as the first Libyan tanks were targeted. "French planes are already in the skies above Benghazi, [and the U.S. will]help our European and Canadian allies and Arab partners stop further violence against civilians, including through the effective implementation of a no-fly zone."

Col. Gadhafi denounced Mr. Obama and other leaders of the mostly-Western coalition sending war planes - including Canada - as the new Nazis and warned they will "fall like Hitler [and]Mussolini."

In an enraged speech, broadcast in Tripoli, he said he would hand out guns to all Libyans and predicted a valiant defence against "flagrant and unjust aggression."

We promise you a long war," he said, adding that the Western air strikes were "simply a colonial crusader aggression." Later, a missile flattened an administrative building of Col. Gadhafi's residence in Tripoli, destroying the Libyan leader's "command and control capability," a coalition official told Agence France-Presse on Sunday.

The most senior U.S. military man came close to announcing "mission accomplished."

"We have had a very significant impact very early, … the no-fly zone, which we were tasked to put in place, is actually in place," said Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

He also said Benghazi was saved from advancing Libyan armoured columns but warned that the mission was not intended to topple Col. Gadhafi. "This is not about going after Gadhafi himself or attacking him," he said.

Mr. Obama was also coming under fire at home as the war's vague objectives, uncertain duration and unclear exit strategy sparked demands for clarity. Some were calling for regime change.

"This is a great opportunity to replace a tyrannical dictator who is not a legitimate leader, who is an international crook … we should seize the moment and talk about replacing him, not talking about how limited we will be," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

The White House, echoing the President who had gone to Brazil for a long-planned visit, said toppling Col. Gadhafi, long regarded as terrorist-sponsoring, international pariah, wasn't the objective.

"The goal of this resolution is not regime change," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

What they said

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi:

"This is a crusader war against the Muslim people, especially against the Libyan people. They believe they will terrify the Libyan people. These are only terrorist means, and only the forces on the ground will be victorious."

The television station carried only the sound of Colonel Gadhafi's voice on Sunday, without pictures. "We will not let America and France and Britain or allied forces enjoy our oil," he added.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy:

"We have the duty to respond to this anguished appeal. The Arab people have chosen to liberate themselves from the servitude they have found themselves locked in for too long. These revolutions have made a huge hope grow in the heart of all those who share the values of democracy and human rights."

U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs:

It "isn't about seeing him [Gadhafi]go," he said Sunday, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, describing the campaign's aims as "limited." Adm. Mullen was asked whether it was possible that the mission's goals could be achieved while leaving Col. Gadhafi in power. "That's certainly potentially one outcome. … How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can't say."

British Prime Minister David Cameron:

"We have all seen the appalling brutality that Colonel Gadhafi has meted out against his own people. And far from introducing the ceasefire he spoke about, he has actually stepped up the attacks and the brutality," Mr. Cameron said after returning from a meeting of international leaders in Paris, where military action was agreed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

"We have every reason to fear that, left unchecked, Gadhafi will commit unspeakable atrocities. His campaign of violence must stop."

International military assets

Here's a look at some of the international military assets in, or heading to, the region to help enforce the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya:

United States

- After barrage of attacks by sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles Saturday, an array of U.S. warplanes - including several B-2 stealth bombers - followed in the predawn hours Sunday with a co-ordinated assault using precision-guided bombs

- Navy EA-18G Growlers launched from unspecified land bases to provide electronic-warfare support over Libya.

-Marine AV-8B Harriers from the USS Kearsarge sailing in the Mediterranean conducted strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces and air defences.


- Deployed eight Rafale and four Mirage jets to survey rebel-held Benghazi; one fired on a Libyan military vehicle in first military strike of the operation.

- Six C-135 refuelling tankers

- One AWACS surveillance plane

- Deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the region from Toulon, accompanied by the antisubmarine frigate Dupleix, the Aconit frigate and a refuelling ship, La Meuse.


- Tornado GR4 jets in air raid over Libya early Sunday; more Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets deployed to the Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy to give them easier access to targets in Libya.

- Tomahawk missiles fired from a Trafalgar Class submarine in the Mediterranean.

- Britain's air base in southern Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, is hosting VC-10, RAF E3D and Sentinel surveillance aircraft, which also provide re-fuelling capability

- Two British frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, are in the Mediterranean off Libya's coast.


- Sent six F-18s to Italy base; 140 military personnel involved.

- Frigate HMCS Charlottetown is in Mediterranean for possible staging ground for Canadian forces.


- Six F-16s arrived at U.S. air base in Sigonella, Sicily, and could be deployed as early as Sunday; 132 support staff.


- Offered use of seven military bases: U.S. air bases at Sigonella, Sicily, and Aviano in northern Italy; Italian air bases in Amendola near Foggia, Decimomannu in Sardinia, Gioia del Colle near Bari, base on Sicilian island of Pantelleria, and the military airport of Trapani, Sicily.

- Proposed NATO base in Naples serve as co-ordination point for operation.

- Placed eight aircraft, four Tornados and four fighter jets, under command of coalition forces.

- Aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, with the eight aircraft aboard, has been conducting air and sea surveillance missions for several days.

- Destroyer Andrea Doria, which has antiaircraft and antimissile equipment, protecting Italian territory from Libyan retaliation.


- Sent four F-18s and a Boeing 707 refuelling plane to Italy base.

- Deploying a submarine, naval frigate and a surveillance plane.

- Placed two bases at NATO's disposal, Rota and Moron de la Frontera, where several U.S. Air Force planes were seen Friday.


- Offered six F-16s, with about 100 support staff, but operational capabilities five to six days off.

- Considering contributing an Orion maritime surveillance plane.


- Eight Belgian F-16s and 200 air force personnel are now at the Greek air base of Araxos, west of Athens, the Belga news agency reported. They will be ready to start flying missions on Monday.

- The Associated Press