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20 Jun

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NATO admits civilian deaths in Libya raid  

Military alliance blames “weapons systems failure” for errant air strike on Tripoli which reportedly killed nine people.

Last Modified: 19 Jun 2011 20:12 GMT

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Yemen

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In Depth

‘Unsung hero’ Brian Haw, 1949-2011

Pennie R Quinton 20 Jun 2011 09:38 GMT
British anti-war activist will be remembered for his unyielding protest on behalf of children killed in conflict.
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Editorial: NATO and Libya

If the Atlantic alliance’s aim is protecting the civilians, it is doing it the wrong way

One of NATO’s mandates is to protect civilians. But after Libyan officials said at least 9 people were killed, two of them toddlers, and six injured by a NATO air raid on a civilian home in Tripoli, more questions will be asked about what the Atlantic alliance is doing in Libya and what it is achieving.

NATO has flown more than 11,000 sorties since operations began in the Libyan conflict now in its fifth month, including almost 4,400 strike attacks against government targets across the country. Two weeks ago, the government in Tripoli put out a statement claiming that about 700 civilians had been killed in these air attacks. Given the intensity of the daily bombings, there seems little reason to doubt the accuracy of this statement. The question is why do NATO airplanes continue to bomb civilian housing and gatherings indiscriminately?

Apologists for the NATO speak of “accidents”, “errors of war” and “collateral damage”, that it is difficult to differentiate between many of the Libyan fighters who are part-time civilians, part-time fighters. They blame Libyan government forces for engaging in warfare in areas populated by civilians. If so, what kind of military relies on high-altitude fighter planes and drones directed from distant command posts to attack population centers? What kind of war is NATO engaged in that constantly finds government troops “melting” into the population? The alliance apparently perceives each and every household as a possible sanctuary, or outpost, of the troops.

Is NATO willing to sacrifice a multitude of civilians to kill a single or a few suspected combatants? The strategists label family compounds as “hideouts” and family gatherings as “troop movements.” But behind every door of every home lodges an “enemy”? Every family is sheltering a combatant? Is it better to shoot than be shot?

And knowing that the killing of civilians, of entire families including children, mothers and the elderly, alienates the local population and breeds widespread hostility, why does NATO refuse to alter its tactics and strategy?

Some pundits claim this is not a NATO war on Libya but a war launched by the governments of the US, Britain and France which are using NATO as a cover to supply troops on demand for their wars. The UN Security Council, it is claimed, provided the cover, as it has done on numerous other occasions. The restrictions included in Resolution 1973 were so loose as to amount to no restrictions at all. Basically, the argument is that it was a mandate for the attacking governments to do what they liked, and this is just what they have been doing. In the name of protecting civilians, they have killed scores of them. The credibility of Libyan officials is suspect after they showed journalists a little girl being treated in hospital two weeks ago and said she had been wounded in a NATO airstrike. A member of the medical staff said she had been injured in a traffic accident. However, at the same time, the alliance has acknowledged mishits in the past; the Tripoli incident occurred just a day after NATO acknowledged that its aircraft had mistakenly struck vehicles aligned with the Libyan opposition in the oil city of Al-Brega. And the timing of yesterday’s incident could not have been worse, occurring just over 24 hours after the country’s prime minister accused the NATO of specifically targeting civilians in its campaign.

NATO is investigating the alleged airstrike but if confirmed, the civilian deaths would be an embarrassment for the alliance which has been leading the bombing campaign under a UN mandate to protect civilians.

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