Western and Arab warplanes were converging on Italy’s air bases Sunday to join the international campaign to cripple the ability of Moamer Kadhafi’s forces to attack Libyan civilians.
France, which Saturday spearheaded the UN-mandated Operation “Odyssey Dawn” with air strikes on Libya, Sunday also sent its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to join the campaign.
Meanwhile aircraft from the United Arab Emirates were due to arrive Sunday at the Decimomannu air force base on the Italian island of Sardinia, which is already hosting four Spanish F-18 fighter jets that arrived on Saturday.
In the West’s biggest intervention in the Arab world since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, mounted exactly eight years earlier, US warships and a British submarine fired more than 120 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya on Saturday.
This prompted Kadhafi to warn Sunday of a long war in the Mediterranean “battlefield” as Tripoli reported dozens of deaths.
Italy is providing seven air bases as key staging points for strikes by Western-led coalition forces to destroy Libya’s air defences and impose a no-fly zone.
The United Arab Emirates, along with Jordan, Morocco and Qatar, was among Arab nations that took part in a summit in Paris on Saturday on the Libyan crisis.
Qatar has decided to supply four planes, a French defence ministry spokesman said Sunday.
Three AWACS radar planes are stationed at the Trapani base in western Sicily along with Italian ECR Tornado jets specialising in destroying anti-missile and radar defences.
Tornado IDS attack jets were deployed at the Ghedi air base in northern Italy along with Eurofighter jets at Grosseto air base in central Italy.
Sunday, four Danish F-16 fighter jets took off from Italy’s Sigonella Air Force base in Sicily for Libyan airspace, Danish public radio DR reported.
Denmark’s contribution to the international military action — four F-16 fighter jets, two reserve planes (also F-16 fighter jets) and a transport plane — arrived at Sigonella Saturday.
US F-15 and F-16 jets are also deployed at Sigonella.
Coalition forces are coordinating their actions but there is no central command organising the attacks, a source in the French defence ministry said Sunday.
“There is no centralised headquarters, and at this stage everyone is using their own headquarters in a coordinated manner,” the source said.
The French are operating out of Mont Verdun, near Lyon in the east of the country, where the air force has its chief air defence control centre.
The British headquarters are at Northwood, in the suburbs of London, and those of the United States at Ramstein in southwest Germany.
The American headquarters has the “greater planning capacity”, the source said.
Allied forces have ruled out any ground operations inside Libya.
Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said Sunday that Rome assigned eight combat aircraft, including four Tornado jets, for the operation that could be used “at any time”, while Belgium said six of its F-16 fighter-bombers would be operational Monday.
Six Italian fighter aircraft including four Tornado bombers took off from western Sicily late Sunday but their destination was not revealed.
London said British Typhoon and Tornado jets flew to the Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy.
In Saturday’s raids, British Tornado jets flew directly to Libya from England, but British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC: “It’s obviously easier if we have access to bases closer to where the targets are and where the no-fly zone is.”
Support aircraft such as the VC10 air-to-air refuelling aircraft and the Sentinel surveillance aircraft are at Akrotiri, Britain’s base in Cyprus.
Two British frigates are also in the region — HMS Westminster was off the coast of Libya, and HMS Cumberland was in the region ready to support operations.
The United States has two US missile-launching destroyers — the Barry and the Stout — stationed in the Mediterranean and will on Wednesday send its helicopter carrier Bataan and two support vessels to replace other ships in the area.
In addition to its four F-18 fighter jets, Spain sent a refueling aircraft to Italy and said it would also deploy an F-100 frigate, an S-74 submarine and a CN-235 maritime surveillance plane to help enforce an arms embargo on Libya, once parliamentary approval has been received.
Spain had already announced on Friday it would allow NATO to use two military bases, at Rota and at Moron de la Frontera in the south of the country.
Canada is deploying six CF-18 fighter jets, along with up to 150 pilots, ground crews and other support staff.
The first of the six F-16 fighter jets Norway will contribute to the international air campaign will leave on Monday, military officials told reporters.
“We are also sending 120 pilots, technicians, security personnel and press officers,” brigadier Per Egil Rygg told reporters, according to public broadcaster NRK.