American, European, and Arab leaders have intervened in Libya in an effort to stop Muammar Qaddafi’s war on the Libyan opposition. This afternoon, five French planes entered Libyan airspace, with the support of the United States and the U.K., and opened fire on a vehicle in Libya. “We opened fire at 5:45 p.m. [French time] on an unspecified vehicle,” army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burckhard told journalists, adding that the French military was “assured of the threat” the vehicle presented.
Following a meeting of coalition leaders in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said French warplanes had also begun enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya, conducting reconnaissance missions, and preparing to intercept any Libyan military aircraft. U.S. naval forces fired more than 100 missles at Libyan air defense installations, in what the Times called “a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.”
The decision came after after Qaddafi defied an ultimatum from Western powers demanding a cease-fire. The Libyan government has continued “heavy bombardment and fighting” against the opposition from within the main rebel-held city, Benghazi. Witnesses there have seen heavy artillery strikes and government tanks and ground troops moving throughout the city.
“The time for action has come,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. “Colonel Qaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalize his own people. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.”
According to CNN, the show of force is being welcomed by besieged rebel forces who have called for backup to help them stave off the government offensive.
Update: Pentagon and NATO officials have detailed a mission “designed to impose a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and keep Mr. Qaddafi from using airpower against rebel forces.”
In a characteristically bizarre letter to President Obama, Qaddafi said: “I have said to you before that even if Libya and the United States enter into war, God forbid, you will always remain my son and I have all the love for you as a son, and I do not want your image to change with me.”
This post has been updated with additional information.