Details on the progression of war in Libya

Operation Odyssey Dawn

Operating under the authority provided by U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, coalition forces, composed of military assets from the United States, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Canada, launched on March 19, 2011 Operation Odyssey Dawn against targets inside Libya and aimed at protecting civilians from attacks perpetrated by pro-Muammar Al-Qadhafi forces.

Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of force if needed, UNSC Resolution 1973 was adopted on March 17, 2011, by 10 votes to zero, with five abstentions. UNSC Resolution 1973 specifically:

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi(…)

The operation began with the dispatch of French air assets from France to Libya, composed of 8 Rafale, 2 Mirage 2000-5, 2 Mirage 2000D, 6 C-135FR air refueling tanker aicraft and one E-3F AWACS. As a result of the odenamed “Opération Harmattan“, the French component of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the French began setting up an exclusion zone around Benghazi, reportedly destroying in the process four Lybian government tanks. Also taking part were to anti-air and air-defense frigates, the Jean Bart and the Forbin, stationned off the coast of Libya.

Subsequent to the French airstrikes, 124 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles were launched from U.S. ships and submarines, in addition to one British Trafalgar-class submarine, with 20 out of 22 Libyan air defense facilities reported to have been targeted by the strikes. The first missile impact took place at 15:00 Eastern Standard Time. This included integrated air and missile defense system radars and anti-aircraft sites(surface-to-air missile sites, early warning sites, key communication nodes) around the capital of Tripoli as well as other facilities located along the Mediterranean coast. The Tomahawk arsenal used consisted of a mixture of older Tomahawks and newer tactical Tomahawks. No U.S. aircraft were used as part of these strikes

Graphic showing the rough locations of the military targets struck as part of the initial phase of Operation Odyssey Dawn Graphic of the Coalition No Fly Zone in Libya as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn enforcing UN Security Resolution 1973 Graphic of Operation Odyssey Dawn's Maritime Capability
Slides from 03/19/11 Op. Odyssey Dawn News BriefingThe last map in this briefing incorrectly identified the Italian ship Etna as a destroyer (DD), when it was in fact a logistics support vessel. Also, the Italian ship Andrea Doria was incorrectly identified as a cruiser (CG). The cruiser Andera Doria was decommissioned in the 1980s. Its name was subsequently reused for a new frigate.


According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the goals of these strikes were twofold:

    – Prevent further attacks by regime forces on Libyan citizens and opposition groups, especially in and around Benghazi;
    – Degrade the regime’s capability to resist the no-fly zone we are implementing under that United Nations resolution.

Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn is being led from USS Mount Whitney, operating in the Mediterranean Sea. 24 other ships from Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom and France took part in the initial phase of the operation.

In remarks made that day, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that he had “authorized the Armed Forces of the United States to begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians”. President Obama stressed, however, that he would “not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground”

Denmark was reported to have dispatched F-16 fighter jets to Sicily. Four of the aircraft would take part in the military operation with the remaining two to act as backups. Some media reports claimed that British special forces, comprised of Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), had been deployed to Libya prior to the initial strikes to prepare for lay the ground for military strikes.

As of 19 March 2011, it was expected that additional countries, notably Arab countries, would be joining the coalition. Denmark contributed 4 F-16 aircraft to the initial strikes in Libya. The USS Stout (DDG 55), which had a ballistic missile defense mission in the Mediterranean Sea, also fired BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Libya on 19 March 2001. Other ships, including the USS Florida (SSGN 728), also conducted missile strikes during the initial attacks.

Results of the strikes were scheduled to be analyzed following collection of data using Global Hawk unmanned aerial aircraft and national technical means providing the information needed.


On 20 March 2011, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced that three B-2 stealth bombers had attacked Libyan airfields using reportedly 40 JDAMs (later reports said 45 GBU-31/B weapons were used) to destroy hardened shelters used by Libyan fighter-bombers. The mission, flown from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, lasted 25 hours in total. The aircraft refueled in mid-air 4 times during the sortie.

Also, sometime before dawn on 20 March 2011, a total of 15 US, French and British aircraft were used in a series of airstrikes on pro-Gadhafi forces, near Benghazi, destroying dozens of military vehicles. Among the aircraft were F-15s and F-16s. Air assets from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit consisting of four AV-8B Harriers also took part in operations against Qadhafi’s ground forces and air defenses while U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers provided electronic warfare support. Other airstrikes were also performed against targets outside Tripoli.

According to U.S. DoD officials, the airstrikes had resulted in the destruction of Libya’s fixed surface-to-air missile capability and early warning radars; though mobile surface-to-air missiles, in the form of SA-6 and SA-8 systems as well thousands of shoulder-fired SA-7 missile launchers, remained.

Operation Odyssey Dawn was led by AFRICOM, with Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn established to provide operational and tactical control of the US portion of enforcement of UNSCR 1973. The Task Force’s Joint Force Maritime Component Commander was also the Commander, 6th Fleet, while the Joint Force Air Component Commander was also the commander of Seventeenth Air Force, US Air Forces Africa.

Qatar announced on 20 March 2011, that it would dispatch four fighter jets to help enforce the no-fly zone. France’s Ministry of Defense said it expected the Qatari aircraft to be made up of four Mirage 2000 jets which would fly jointly with French aircraft, but nonetheless have their own automous command and support. Canada also deployed six CF-18 aircraft. Belgium, Greece and Norway were also reported to have each deployed half a dozen F-16 fighter jets to the island of Sicily.

On 20 March 2011, France announced that its Charles de Gaulle Groupe aéronaval (GAN), made up of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the Meuse fleet oiler and the Aconite and Dupleix frigates had departed its homeport of Toulon that day and were en route towards the coast off Libya. The task force is equipped with 10 helicopters, including two Caracal and one Puma from the French Air Force. The Charles de Gaulle also carries onboard eight Rafale Marine, six 6 Super-Etendard and 2 E-2C Hawkeye. Also on 20 March 2011, AV-8B aircraft of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, operating from the USS Kearsarge conducted strike in the vicinity of Ajdabiyah, Libya. Six Italian Tornados from Trapani Birgi Air Base also participated in operations for the first time on 20 March 2011.

On 20 March 2011, the Arab League’s Secretary General criticized Operation Odyssey Dawn, saying that the scope of the operation exceeded the intent of the League’s original call for a no-fly zone the week prior.

On 21 March 2011, the Spanish announced that 3 F-18 aircraft had particiapted in the UN sanctioned no-fly zone operation over Libya. A total of 4 F-18s, along with a single Boeing 707 refueling aircraft were to be deployed to Decimomannu Air Base on the island of Sardinia for operations over Libya. F-16s of the Belgian Air Component also conducted strikes, flying out of Araxos Air Base in Greece, where the aircraft had been deployed initially for training purposes. On 21 March 2011, Norway announced that it would be sending 4 F-16 aircraft to an unspecified NATO air base in the region to participate in the no-fly zone operations.

The UK Ministry of Defense announced on 21 March 2011, that the HMS Cumberland (F85) and the HMS Westminster (F237) had been deployed off the coast of Libya to assist in a planned naval blockade. In addition to the aircraft deployed to assist with the no-fly zone, Spain also announced that it would also deploy the frigate Méndez Núñez and the submarine Tramontana to patrol the waters off Libya as part of the blockade, in concert with CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft. The Bataaan Amphibous Ready Group, made up of the USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), along with their embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, was also en route to relieve the Kearsarge Amphibous Ready Group.

Though, originally reported to be contributing fighter aircraft to the enforcement of the no-fly zone, the United Arab Emirates stated on 21 March 2011, that their involvement in Libya would be limited to humanitarian aid. Two planes from the UAE had delivered medical supplies and foodstuffs the previous week, and the UAE was at the time coordinating with Turkey to send an aid ship to Libya.

Late on 21 March 2011, a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle based at RAF Lakenheath, but flying out of Aviano Air Base, crashed in Libya following an equipment malfunction while flying in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Both crew members successfully ejected and were reported to be safe, though their recovery was ongoing as of 22 March 2011. The crew, who suffered minor injuries, were recovered safely from northern Libya later on 22 March 2011. One of the crew was recovered from the crash site by a CSAR task force from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit using 2 AV-8B Harriers, 2 MV-22A Osprey, and 2 CH-53E Super Stallions. The CH-53E Super Stallions carried a quick reaction force. During the operation, the AV-8Bs dropped 2 500-pound laser guided bombs in support of the rescue. The other crew member was rescued by Libyan rebels and then recovered.

On 22 March, 2011, the leaders of China, Russia, and South Africa all called for an immediate cease-fire in Libya between both the government and rebels and government forces and those of the UN sanctioned coalition enforcing a no-fly zone and naval blockade. The chairman of the Southern African Development Community, Namibia’s President Hifikepunye Pohamba, along with the presidents of Zimbabwe and Uganda criticized the actions of the coalition forces, suggesting it was tantamount to inference in the internal affairs of Africa. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he expected the intensity of the fighting to drop in a matter of days.

Also on 22 March 2011, President Obama said that he hoped the United States would be able to transfer leadership of the operation to another entity (country, group of countries, or multi-national organization) “within days.” The strongest contender for this new leadership was seen as NATO, but members such as Germany and Turkey made clear their opposition to such plans. The United States, United Kingdom, and Italy were those most in favor of NATO assuming control of the operation. Turkey favored transforming the operation into a purely humanitarian mission. Later on 22 March 2011, NATO reported that it had agreed as a bloc to full support of the naval blockade to enforce the UN arms embargo, but that it was still debating the organizations role in the air campaign. US President Barak Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said later that the bloc had agree to a more unified effort in support of the air campaign.

Coalition aircraft continued strikes on 22 March 2011, attacking military facilities eastern Libya. The coalition was also looking to expand the scope of the no-fly zone to encompass the area between Benghazi and Tripoli. The suppression of air defense facilities in the west was intended to make it possible to enforce the full no-fly zone originally planned. As of 22 March 2011, it was reported that 159 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at targets in Libya.

On 22 March 2011, 2 Qatari Mirage 2000-5EDA fighters and a C-17 transport arrived at the Souda Air Base on the island of Crete in Greece, after making an unscheduled stop to refuel Larnaca airport in Cyprus. Two Rafale F3 of French Flotille 12F also launched from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, positioned near Crete in international waters. Their reconnaissance mission was the first to be launcehd from the Charles de Gaulle and the first to be conduct by its task force, TF473, in support of coalition operations over Libya.

On 23 March 2011, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton indicated that it was likely that NATO would take over the leadership of the coalition participating in UN sanctioned operations over Libya and off its coasts. A compromise was reached in which policy oversight for the operation would be in the hands of all the coalition partners, while NATO would be in charge of directing the military component. British Prime Minister David Cameron also said on 23 March 2011 that Kuwait and Jordan would contribute to the effort logistically.

As of 23 March 2011, NATO had recieved offers for 16 ships to help enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya, though not all of those ships had been deployed. The Greek frigate Limnos had been conducting operations between Crete and Libya since 20 March 2011, with another, the Themistoklis, on stand by. Turkey offered another 4 frigates, a submarine, and a support ship to help in the naval operation. On 22 March 2011, Germany had pulled out of NATO operations in the Mediterranean entirely, while also deploying air force elements to Afghanistan to free up NATO elements there to participate in the no-fly zone over Libya. Germany had previously had 4 ships operating in the region. The frigate FGS Lübeck and the fleet service vessel FGS Oker had been part of Standing NATO Response Force Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1), in addition to the Italian logistics support vessel Etna and the Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown.

As of 23 March 2011, the US Department of Defense reported that the coalition had flown a total of 336 sorties over Libya, with 212 of those being flown by the United States, and the other 124 being flown by other coalition partners. Of the total sorties, 108 were strike missions. A total of 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been launched up to that point.


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