NATO forces hit civilian areas in Libya, commence drone attacks

Protest against drone attacks in Pakistan on April 22, 2011

The UN Security Council resolution purportedly authorizing U.S./NATO operations in Libya was further undermined yesterday when NATO airstrikes reportedly hit civilian targets in Tripoli and other cities.

As France 24 reports today,

NATO planes staged raids on civil and military sites in the Libyan capital Tripoli and other cities, JANA news agency said, without confirming the number of people killed and wounded. Earlier air raids conducted by the Western alliance struck near a compound in Tripoli where Kadhafi resides.

“A military source said civil and military sites were targeted by the colonialist aggressor,” said JANA, specifying that the strikes had also covered Al-Khums, Gharian, El Assa and Sirte, the birthplace of strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

Three new explosions rocked the Libyan capital in the late evening as NATO warplanes overflew Tripoli, AFP journalists said, after several earlier blasts in the city centre and outlying quarters.

The Chinese news agency Xinhau adds that civilian infrastructure was among NATO’s targets:

NATO warplanes bombed several military and civilian targets in Tripoli, resulting in casualties Saturday night.

Three loud explosions were heard near the Women’s Military Academy in downtown Tripoli after NATO fighter jets flew over the capital, a Xinhua correspondent said.

The NATO airstrike also targeted cities of al-Khums and Sirte, destroying water-supply and sewage systems as well as private cars, the state-run JANA news agency quoted the Libyan military as saying.

Even before the new reports of NATO hitting civilian targets, the military alliance was coming under criticism from the Libyan opposition — which NATO is ostensibly supporting — for not doing enough to protect civilians from pro-Gaddafi forces.

Last week, NATO reportedly halted operations in defense of civilians in the city of Ajdabiya, due to inclement weather conditions that inhibited their military capabilities. Libyan rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, however, pointed out to CNN that the loyalists who were bombing the city “have no problem with the weather conditions there.”

Gaddafi’s forces were using Grad missiles and mortars, the spokesman said, “and sometimes we feel that NATO wants to use any excuse out there so they don’t carry out their duties.”

But NATO leaders have already made it clear that they view their mission as deposing Gaddafi, not necessarily enforcing a no-fly zone or protecting civilians which Resolution 1973 originally authorized.

Two weeks ago, President Obama and his British and French counterparts, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, made public their objective of regime change, which was specifically not authorized by Resolution 1973. In a  joint op-ed, they wrote:

So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

They subsequently made it clear that they were stretching Resolution 1973 even further, by sending in ground forces, despite the resolution’s explicit prohibition of “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

The reports of NATO attacks on civilian infrastructure are simply the next logical step in this process of mission creep. While NATO will undoubtedly deny that it is intentionally hitting infrastructure, history shows that this is certainly within its modus operandi.

In the 1999 bombing of Serbia, for example, NATO intentionally bombed bridges, a television station and other civilian targets in an effort to weaken Slobodan Milosevic’s communication and transportation capabilities. The attacks were a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as are the alleged bombings of water-supply and sewage systems yesterday in Libya.

More civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. and NATO in Libya should be expected going forward, especially with the recent deployment of Predator drones in the country. These unmanned flying bombers have become notorious in Pakistan and Afghanistan for indiscriminately killing civilians.

While the Pentagon insists on the targeting precision of drones, their track record is less than impressive. As Geoff Simons, author of Drone Diplomacy, points out in a letter to the Guardian,

The evidence is overwhelming that drone usage in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere massively increases “collateral damage”. On 6 May 2002 a drone killed 10 Afghan civilians in a car convoy. On 5 January 2006 a drone targeting al-Qaida‘s Ayman al-Zawahiri blew up a house in Pakistan. He wasn’t there and eight civilians were killed. A week later a Predator ordered into action from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, destroyed three houses in Demadola, Pakistan, killing 22 civilians, including five women and five children.

On 19 May 2009 a drone attacked homes of villagers in North Waziristan thought to be aiding insurgents, killing 14 women and children. On 2 December 2010, Conflict Monitoring Centre in Islamabad issued a report charging that the US was deliberately ignoring Pakistani civilian deaths (2,043 over five years) caused by drones. On 23 January 2011, after 13 more civilians were killed, 2,000 tribesmen in North Waziristan held a protest against drone missile strikes.

In May 2010 Philip Alston, UN special representative on extrajudicial executions, warned of a “PlayStation” mentality among drone operators in the United States. Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said that he’s “particularly concerned that the US asserts an ever-expanding entitlement to target individuals across the globe … an ill-defined licence to kill without accountability.”

The deployment of drones in Libya comes just on the heals of a drone attack in Pakistan that reportedly killed five children and four women, who were among the “militants” targeted for execution.

As the weapons are now being used in Libya, these sorts of tragedies will be expected, especially since the U.S. and NATO have already made clear that they are not bound by international law. Having already exceeded Resolution 1973 with declarations of regime change and commitment of ground forces in Libya, they now appear to be disregarding the Geneva Conventions in targeting civilian infrastructure.

The violations can only be expected to continue going forward, unless the U.S./NATO intervention is halted in its tracks.


About The Compliance Campaign

Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: Facebook: Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at]

One response to “NATO forces hit civilian areas in Libya, commence drone attacks”

  1. says :

    “NATO forces hit civilian areas in Libya, commence drone attacks
    compliancecampaign” was a perfect article. However, if it had much more photographs this would
    likely be even much better. Thank u ,Concetta

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