Tuesday

9th Mar 2021

Nato admits civilian casualties in Libya

  • Nato has little intelligence from the ground in Libya (Photo: nasa.org)

Nato on Sunday (19 June) admitted its first major airstrike blunder causing civilian casualties in the four-month long Libyan campaign against Moammar Gaddafi.

"Nato regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens," lieutenant-general Charles Bouchard, commander of the Nato mission in Libya said in a statement.

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Citing "weapons system failure" as a first indication, the Canadian airforce general said Nato was still trying to determine the specifics of the incident.

Earlier that day, the Libyan government said that a Nato missile had struck a house in a residential area of the Libyan capital, killing at least nine civilians, including two children. Government officials also took Tripoli-based reporters to the alleged site of the attack and to a hospital where they were shown the bodies of two adults and two children, the Guardian reports.

Libya's foreign minister Abdelati Obeidi said this "deliberate bombing" called for a "global jihad" against the West.

The Libyan opposition, meanwhile, blamed the Gaddafi regime and its tactic of placing military installations near civilian areas. "These losses are to be expected," said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

Nato's blunder - the first such admission since operations began four months ago with the aim of "protecting civilians" from Gaddafi'smortar shells and airstrikes - comes shortly after the outgoing US defence minister Robert Gates highlighted the technical and intelligence shortfalls of the alliance in Libya.

"Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets are lacking that would allow more allies to be involved and make an impact. The most advanced fighter aircraft are little use if allies do not have the means to identify, process, and strike targets as part of an integrated campaign," Gates said in Brussels earlier this month.

Part of its intelligence-gathering network - Nato has no troops deployed on the ground - is the micro-blogging service Twitter, along with other open sources which may determine where Gaddafi's troops and facilities are.

Janice Clinch, a Canadian retiree and an administrator of the Libyan Youth Movement page on Facebook, discovered that a member of the Facebook group had found the location of a gas station converted into a headquarters for Gaddafi's forces and tweeted the co-ordinates for Nato to check out.

Another Twitter user from Arizona last month tweeted the co-ordinates of a suspected base in Tripoli, after he saw military vehicles on satellite images at a warehouse there. The base was hit by Nato later that day.

According to the Globe and Mail, some activists have been contacted directly by Nato, which has also set up unofficial accounts to solicit information.

Refugees

In an attempt to cap refugees and migrant workers from Libya to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats, the Italian government on Friday signed an agreement with the Benghazi-based opposition, the NTC. The rebels pledged to honour several deals signed by the Berlusconi government with Gaddafi, including for repatriation of irregular migrants, should they come to power.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said the agreement is aimed at fighting "clandestine immigration" by exchanging information on the smugglers' groups that organises it, on the routes across the Mediterranean used by the human traffickers and groups specializing in falsifying passports and other documents.

But the UN special envoy for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said that the Italian fears are overblown.

"When one looks at the situation in Libya, about one million people left Libya after the conflict started and less than two percent came to Europe. So, sometimes the debate in Europe is - in my opinion - a debate that doesn't correspond to the reality," he said on Sunday while in Lampedusa, the main entry point to Europe for boats crossing the Mediterranean.

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