A defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed a "long war" after the U.S. and European militaries blasted his forces with airstrikes and over 100 cruise missiles early Sunday, hitting air defenses and at least two major air bases and shaking the Libyan capital with explosions and anti-aircraft fire.
Despite the strikes, Gadhafi's troops lashed back, bombarding the rebel-held city of Misrata with artillery and tanks on Sunday, the opposition reported.
In the overnight barrage, ship-fired Tomahawk cruise missiles and bombs and missiles from an international arsenal of warplanes including American B-2 stealth bombers and F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers rained down on Libyan targets — including ground forces — in the widest international military effort since the Iraq war. The air assault came as Gadhafi's overwhelming firepower was threatening to crush the month-old rebellion against his 41-year rule. State television said 48 people were killed in the strikes.
The strikes gave immediate, if temporary, relief to the besieged rebel capital, Benghazi, in eastern Libya.
U.S. and European military officials said the assault was only the first wave in the international operation in Libya. But already there were signs of differences over the goals. France took a more assertive stance, suggesting the allies' intervention must ultimately lead to Gadhafi's downfall. The U.S. military appeared more wary of overtly taking a side and getting pulled deeper into Libya's conflict, with the top American U.S. officer saying Gadhafi's ouster wasn't necessarily the goal.
Libya's claims of civilians among the dead from the strikes also appeared to make Arab countries nervous, after the Arab League took the unprecedented step of calling for a no-fly zone. On Sunday, Arab League chief Amr Moussa criticized the allied strikes, saying they went beyond what the Arab body had supported.
"What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives," Moussa told reporters in Cairo. "What we want is civilians' protection not shelling more civilians."
Gadhafi vowed to fight on. In a phone call to Libyan state television, he said he would not let up on Benghazi and said the government had opened up weapons depots to all Libyans, who were now armed with "automatic weapons, mortars and bombs." State television said Gadhafi's supporters were converging on airports as human shields.
"We promise you a long war," he said.