(Reuters) - European and U.S. forces have unleashed warplanes and cruise missiles against Libyan targets under a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians from leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
U.S. and British ships and submarines fired more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan targets to take out their air defenses, although no U.S. aircraft were flying over Libya.
Following are assets that are being, or could be, used.
France said it has some 20 fighter jets deployed in an initial operation in Libya, including Rafale multirole war planes, Mirage fighter jets and at least one AWACS surveillance aircraft. The target area involved is an area 62-by-93 miles around the rebel-controlled city of Benghazi.
The French operation is being run out of the Solenzara air base in the Mediterranean island of Corsica, around an hour’s flight from Libya in a fighter jet.
France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier is on the French Mediterranean coast and will head to Libya around midday on Sunday. It could reach the Libyan coast by late Monday carrying 15 fighter jets. Its battle group includes three frigates, a fuel-supply ship and an attack submarine.
France also has air force bases near the Mediterranean towns of Marseille and Istres, about an hour and a half flying from Libya. Airborne refueling tanker aircraft were ready on Friday to deploy from Istres.
France rejoined NATO’s military command in 2009, reversing four decades of self-imposed exile.
Britain said it participated in a coordinated strike on Saturday against Libyan air defense systems using Tomahawk missiles launched from one of its Trafalgar-class submarines. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) also confirmed Stormshadow missiles were launched from a number of Tornado GR4 jets flown from a Royal Air Force base 3,000 miles away in the eastern England county of Norfolk. It said the operation was supported by VC10 and Tristar air-to-air refueling aircraft as well as E3D Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft. The MoD said Typhoon jets were also standing by to provide support.
Britain has two frigates off the Libyan coast, HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster, which also could be called on to support operations. Government sources earlier said destroyers could be deployed.
The United States started a “limited military action” in Libya several hours after France that included launching strikes along the Libyan coast that would target Libyan air defenses.
The U.S. military deployed planes, cruise missiles and electronic attacks, the Pentagon said.
A defense official said the U.S. Navy has three submarines outfitted with Tomahawk missiles in the Mediterranean ready to participate, including attack submarines Newport News and the Providence. They were joined by two Navy ships.
Tomahawk missiles can cripple aircraft or anti-aircraft defenses in a no-fly operation.
In all, the U.S. Navy has five combat ships in the Mediterranean, including at least one guided-missile destroyer, but there are no U.S. aircraft carriers close to Libya.
The USS Enterprise, which recently was stationed in the Red Sea, has been moved eastwards, away from Libya, to join the USS Carl Vinson, in the Arabian Sea to support Afghanistan operations.
Aviano, south of the Alps in Italy, is the region’s only U.S. air base with aircraft assigned to it — 42 F-16s. The Pentagon has not discussed the positioning of other planes in the region. The United States has a range of Mediterranean military bases and installations in Italy, Greece, Spain and Turkey.
The Pentagon said on Saturday that the United States was in charge of the Western intervention but the intention was to transfer it to a “coalition command” in the coming days.
Canada’s HMCS Charlottetown warship has joined naval actions, including a naval blockade, taking place off Libya, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters.
Canadian fighter jets have reached the region but need another day or two of preparation before they can join the mission, a Canadian government spokesman said. One Canadian tanker aircraft is stationed at Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia, Italy, the Italian command at the base said.
Italy has deployed dozens of combat aircraft at its base at Trapani, in western Sicily in readiness for possible involvement in air strikes on Libya.
Tornado fighters that can be used to destroy enemy air defenses and radar as well as F-16s and Eurofighters used for air-to-air defense have been moved to Trapani from bases in Piacenza in northern Italy, Gioia del Colle in Apulia.
Italy has offered the use of a NATO base near Naples for joint command center for the joint operation, and could participate later on in military activities, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in all seven bases in Italy — at Amendola, Gioia del Colle, Sigonella, Aviano, Trapani, Decimomannu and Pantelleria — were available and some allies had asked to use them.
Five are on the southern mainland or Sicily, making them some of the closest available bases to Libya.
Defense Minister Gitte Lillelund Bech said that six Danish fighter planes had been deployed to Sicily. Four were awaiting U.S. instructions to join operations over Libya on Sunday, and two would be kept in reserve.
Inspector General Finn Kristian Hannestad of the Norwegian Air Force was quoted by public broadcaster NRK as saying the NATO member was ready to send up to six F-16 fighter jets for an operation in Libya. Norway was sending personnel to Sicily on Sunday to look at different base options, and would be ready to get involved within 5-10 days, he said.
Three Spanish F-18s plus one Spanish tanker aircraft are deployed at Decimomannu airbase in Sardinia, the Italian base command said.
The Italian command at Decimomannu said the base was also awaiting the arrival of F-16s from the United Arab Emirates. It was not clear how many, or when they would arrive.
Editing by Mike Peacock