March 21, 2011
COLONEL Gaddafi himself could be targeted by air strikes if there is no risk to civilians, the Defence Secretary said yesterday.
Dr Liam Fox said allied forces would not take a "gung-ho attitude" but refused to rule out targeting Gaddafi if the chance presented itself.
He told the BBC's Politics Show yesterday: "There's a difference between someone being a legitimate target and whether you would go ahead with targeting.
"You would have to take into account what might happen to civilians, we don't simply - with a gung-ho attitude - start firing off missiles."
Ministers and opponents of the regime have called for military action to remove the dictator, but the UN resolution authorising military action does not legally allow regime change.
Any explicit attempt to target the Libyan ruler may therefore prove controversial.
Royal Marines were put on alert yesterday for possible action in Libya.
As a second evening of air raids began, Britain was playing a major role in operations.
The MoD said British jets had been involved in another bombing mission against Libyan air defence systems. Tomahawk missiles were also launched again from a Trafalgar Class submarine in the Mediterranean.
An administrative building inside Gaddafi's compound at Bab al-Aziziya in Tripoli was said to have been "completely destroyed" by one missile.
There were large explosions across the city, interspersed with anti-aircraft fire, and smoke was reportedly seen rising from the Presidential Palace.
The government claimed last night that it had instructed its armed forces to observe a ceasefire from 7pm GMT - but the same announcement on Friday was breached within hours.
Military chiefs fear a rapid reaction force may be needed to go in if the Libyan leader orders his henchmen to commit atrocities against his own civilians.
Another big concern among military chiefs is Gaddafi's stockpile of chemical weapons - including deadly mustard gas. They fear he could unleash the weapons if he thinks he is about to be ousted by the rebels.
United States Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the mustard gas worries: "We're watching very closely. He does have a store of that, a significant quantity."
There have been widespread reports that British SAS troops and other special forces teams have been in Libya for weeks, liaising with rebel groups.
Now an officer from 40 Commando, based at Norton Manor Camp, Taunton, Somerset, has revealed his men have been put on notice to leave for North Africa by the end of the week.
The elite corps took heavy losses during their last tour in Afghanistan, returning to Britain only in October after a six-month tour. The source added: "A large number of commandos have just left for Afghanistan for another tour there. So we are the available ones for Libya if required."
The Marines could be stationed on one of two British frigates off the Libyan coast, HMS Westminster or HMS Cumberland - or even France's aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
A Libyan spokesman last night claimed its armed forces had been ordered to follow a ceasefire despite facing "barbaric armed aggression".
He said: "We, the Popular Social Leadership of Libya, recommend to the armed forces to announce an immediate ceasefire to all military units."
Earlier, in a rabid telephone interview broadcast on national TV, Gaddafi vowed to fight a "long war" to protect his homeland.
From an unknown location, he said: "We will not leave our oil to America or France or Britain or the enemy Christian states that are aligned now against us.
"We will not leave our land. We will fight for every inch of our land and liberate every inch of it.
"Now the arms depots have been opened and all the Libyan people are being armed."
He claimed the leaders of Britain, France and the US were acting like fascist dictators and would "fail like how Hitler failed, Napoleon failed, Mussolini failed".
He added: "All tyrants fall under the feet of the people."
The Foreign Secretary William Hague acknowledged the possibility of non-occupying ground troops moving into Libya, which he claimed would not breach the terms of the UN resolution.
He said: "It is true, there can't be an occupation force. It doesn't exclude every type of operation, but we don't have involvement of ground forces at the moment." Prime Minister David Cameron, who declared the action "legal and right", held a Cobra meeting last night to assess the situation.
In Libya, Gaddafi claimed 64 people had been killed by the bombardment.
Libyan state TV showed film of an unidentified hospital of what it called victims of the "colonial enemy".
Admiral Mullen said the no-fly zone over Libya was effectively in place and he had seen no reliable reports of civilian casualties. In the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Saturday's allied action was welcomed by relieved civilians.
Civil servant Khalid al-Ghurfaly, 38, said: "We salute France, Britain, the US and the Arab countries for standing with Libya. But we think Gaddafi will take out his anger on civilians. So the West has to hit him hard."
Rebel spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga said more than 8,000 anti-Gaddafi protestors had been killed so far.
RAF Tornado GR4 fast jets armed with Stormshadow cruise missiles, accurate to just a few feet, flew from RAF Marham in Norfolk on a 3,000-mile round-trip mission.
They moved yesterday with a number of RAF Typhoons to the Gioia del Colle airbase in southern Italy - just 30 minutes from the Libyan mainland.
The Tornado strikes on "high-value targets" in Tripoli and other areas came after French aircraft destroyed tanks near Benghazi.