Sunday, June 19, 2011

NATO Admits Civilian Deaths in Libya Bombing

Libya: Nato admits civilian deaths as Gaddafi regime claims propaganda coup

The fragile alliance targeting Col Muammar Gaddafi is under strain after Nato on Sunday admitted that its bombers had missed a military target to kill a number of civilians in Tripoli.

By Nick Meo, Tripoli, Bruno Waterfield, Brussels Correspondent and Thomas Harding
UK Telegraph
11:39PM BST 19 Jun 2011

The Gaddafi regime has seized on the casualties, said to be nine people, including a mother and father and at least two young children, to score propaganda points against Nato and to bolster Libya's embattled dictator.

The deaths are the first acknowledged civilian casualties caused by the alliance in what has so far been an accurate three-month bombing campaign and come at a time when fatigue is growing among many alliance members for a conflict that many believed would be over by the summer.

In a statement Nato said: "A military missile site was the intended target of air strikes in Tripoli.

"However, it appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target and that there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties."

The air strike was thought to have been carried out by French jets which, along with the RAF, have spearheaded air strikes against forces loyal to Col Gaddafi.

According to Libyan officials the civilians died in the blast at a three-storey residential block. Journalists saw the body of a woman removed from the rubble in the early hours of Sunday and other bodies at a hospital.

The building, in the Souk al-Juma district, an anti-Gaddafi stronghold, is less than a mile from a military airfield, which has been targeted by Nato in the past.

The building looked as if a bomb had struck it from above, collapsing its front into a pile of rubble and damaging homes across the street. Intact rooms at the back contained furniture, a television and ordinary family possessions.

"They were normal people, a normal family. Why did Nato kill them?" asked one man who said he was neighbour. Locals named the father who died as Faraj Grahi.

Nato planes have struck thousands of targets throughout Libya, and although the government claims more than 800 civilians have died they have been able to show little evidence to back up that claim.

The Libyan government has pounced on the off-target bombing raid to denounce it as "another night of murder, terror and horror in Tripoli caused by Nato".

Abdulati al-Obeidi, Gaddafi's foreign minister, denounced Nato as a "barbarous, murderous organisation" and said he held the leaders of Britain, France and America legally and morally responsible for the deaths.

"The deliberate bombing is a direct call for all free peoples of the world and for all Muslims to initiate a global jihad against the oppressive, criminal West and never to allow such criminal organisations as Nato to decide the future of other independent and sovereign nations," he said.

"We will never forgive. We will never forget. We are here, on our land, united with our leader, ready for peace and ready for the fight for our freedom and honour."

The French defence ministry on Sunday night declined to say whether its aircraft, which include Mirage 2000 fighter jets and Rafale multirole combat aircraft, took part. It said it was up to Nato to disclose the nationality of warplanes under its command. However, Nato said it was up to national governments to do so.

Nato targeting is carefully planned in Tripoli because of the potential civilian casualties. Such is the accuracy that Nato has previously been able to destroy the top two floors of a building, destroying troops and weapons, while the bottom two floors have remained intact.

"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," said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of the alliance's Libyan operations.

Defence sources said a number of factors could be responsible for a missed target, such as a laser malfunction if the bomb was laser-guided.

A spokesman for the Libyan rebels said the Gaddafi regime was to blame for the deaths.

"We are sorry for the loss of civilian life that was caused by air strikes carried out by Nato," said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice chairman of the rebel National Transitional Council.

"We hold the Gaddafi regime responsible for having placed its military near civilian areas. So these losses are to be expected."

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