WASHINGTON — The United States on Saturday unleashed a barrage of Tomahawk missiles against the Libyan regime's air defenses but ruled out using ground troops in what President Barack Obama called a "limited military action."
After initially taking a cautious stance on armed intervention in Libya's civil war, Obama ordered the strikes citing the threat posed to civilians by Moamer Kadhafi's forces and a UN-mandated no-fly zone endorsed by Arab countries.
"We must be clear: actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced," Obama told reporters while on an official visit to Brazil.
But with nearly 100,000 US troops fighting a protracted war in Afghanistan -- and with Saturday's missile strikes coming eight years to the day after the United States launched its war in Iraq -- Obama made clear that the Libya operation would not result in American boots on the ground.
"As I said yesterday, we will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any US troops on the ground," he said.
The US military said American warships and one British submarine fired at least 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya against Kadhafi's anti-aircraft missiles and radar.
Admiral William Gortney told reporters at the Pentagon that the cruise missiles "struck more than 20 integrated air defense systems and other air defense facilities ashore."
The first missile struck at 1900 GMT following air strikes carried out earlier by French warplanes, said Gortney, director of the US joint staff.
"It's a first phase of a multi-phase operation" to enforce the UN resolution and prevent the Libyan regime from using force "against its own people," he said.
The missile strikes came despite skepticism in the US military over the risks of intervention, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeatedly expressing caution even as he promised to provide Obama with a full menu of military options.
Gates, who postponed a planned trip to Russia on Saturday for at least 24 hours, had suggested that Washington ought to think twice before going to war in another country in the Middle East.
But as rebel forces appeared on the verge of collapse and the Arab League came out in favor of a no-fly zone, the Obama administration opted to support joint military action first advocated by France and Britain.
The Pentagon has suggested the American military will play a supporting role in operations, employing Tomahawk missiles, electronic jamming aircraft and other resources while European allies fly bombing missions over Libya.
Gortney said the United States and its allies are not yet enforcing a no-fly zone with aircraft patrolling the skies round-the-clock, he said, but "we're setting the conditions to be able to reach that state."
"Our mission right now is to shape the battle space in such a way that our partners may take the lead," he said, suggesting more of a supporting role for the American military.
Asked if the United states would send in fighter jets and bomber aircraft to carry out raids, Gortney declined to comment.
Referring to a map of the operation, Gortney said that most of the targets "are on or near the coast, a fact which made their destruction vital to the enforcement of a no-fly zone, since so much of the air activity we have seen and so much of the regime's military efforts have been in this part of the country."
The targets included surface-to-air missile sites as well as early warning radar and command-and-control communication centers, he said.
But it was too early to say how effective the Tomahawk strikes were, he said.
"Because it is night over there, it will be some time before we have a complete picture of the success of these strikes," the admiral said.
The US operation -- named "Odyssey Dawn" -- followed initial missions by French warplanes, which carried out four air strikes Saturday, destroying several armored vehicles from Kadhafi's forces.
Two US Navy destroyers and three US submarines are positioned in the Mediterranean near Libya, all of which are equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
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