The use of cluster munitions in Misrata

May 25, 2011 — 37 Comments

On this page, HRI presents some of the evidence relevant to the use of cluster munitions in Misrata in April 2011.

As more information comes to light, and in response to the requirements of the on-going investigation, this page is updated on a fairly regular basis.

Unlike those who jump to instant conclusions based on propaganda and partial truths,  HRI is sceptical and unbiased – which clearly isn’t popular in some quarters.

For those looking for a 100% definite answer as to who fired the munitions into Misrata, this page will be a bit of a disappointment but more about links between the banks, governments, arms traders and the military is being uncovered on an almost daily basis.

The use of cluster munitions in Misrata

On 15th April 2011, during the day, sub-munitions of a MAT-120 cluster munition were shown to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and C.J. Chivers, a journalist for the New York Times, in Misrata. That evening, during ongoing clashes between rebel and loyalist forces, HRW workers witnessed 3 or 4 cluster munitions landing in residential areas of Misrata. HRW attest to further subsequent such bombings.

Initial Reactions

Civilians were reportedly killed in these attacks and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned:

“The reported repeated use of cluster munitions and heavy weaponry by Libyan government forces in their attempt to regain control of the besieged city of Misrata.”

She noted that one cluster munition had reportedly exploded a few hundred metres from a hospital in Misrata while another two clinics were apparently hit by mortar or sniper fire.

“Using imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas will inevitably lead to civilian casualties.”

These attacks were immediately blamed these attacks on the Gaddafi regime and the news has been a front page and first item on the television news around the world.

Here are the relevant HRW and NYT reports:

The Human Rights Watch Report of 15th April on which the Ghaddafi forces fired cluster munitions story has been based.

CJ Chiver’s report on 15th April, ‘Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas’

Fred Abrahams on BBC Radio 4 Today Program 16 April 2011

In response to the question of why he assumed the munitions were fired by Libyan rather than NATO forces, Fred Abrahams said,

“Because the MAT-120 is mortar-fired and NATO has no troops on the ground.”

When initially confronted with the information that cluster munitions had been found in Misrata, Hillary Clinton’s reaction was:

“That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”

The MAT-120 cluster munition

The MAT-120 cluster bomb

The MAT-120 can be fired from a number of smoothbore 120mm mortar systems. A 12omm mortar system is a large calibre mortar, operated by a small team and in service with a number of nations.

The systems which can fire the MAT-120  include the NEMO and AMOS systems mounted in a turret.

Here is the AMOS system mounted on a CB-90 in action:

The combination of the AMOS and the Combat Boat 90H has been described as ideal for fire support in urban environments. As Captain Evin H. Thompson, Commander of US Naval Special Warfare Group Four, said in June 2007, in relation to a specific question about US Navy use of the CB90-H and AMOS system (which fires the MAT-120):

“The Amos or something like that – tied into my reduced signature boat gives special operations and our Navy the ability to clandestinely be someplace with the capability to act if circumstances allow.”

Spanish sales of the MAT-120 to Libya.

Spanish media reports indicate that Instalaza have denied selling these weapons to Libya.

The Spanish Industry Minister, Miguel Sebastian (himself linked to a bank who have financed US cluster munition manufacture), has so far failed to meet the HRI request to release details of all exports of cluster munitions.

The Spanish government  needs to confirm exactly what happened to all stocks of MAT-120 produced, where the machinery for making the MAT-120 has ended up, where the MAT-120 was exported to and where they have been stored.

As far as official exports go, a lot hangs on whether the MAT-120 is regarded as a category 3 munition (ML3) - in which case, of the countries to which category 3 exports were officially made in 2007 and 2008, only the USA has not signed the Convention against Cluster Munitions and is involved in the conflict in Libya – or if it is categorised as a Category 4 munition (ML4) in which case the USA, Qatar and Libya fit the bill. According to Nicholas Marsh of NISAT, who is an expert in these matters, “There is a blurred division between weapon categories, and especially ML3 and ML4.”

If exports of the MAT-120 were made to Libya, it has to be explained why, who made the decision, how many were sent there, at what time, of which batches and where else these munitions went.

There is additional detail on this in the section on Spanish bombs.

The United States leadership fully approve of cluster munitions

Although Spain has apparently gone to extraordinary effort to try and clear the USA of any involvement in the use of cluster munitions in Misrata, the USA has refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions and these weapons are an important part of their arsenal with the USA possessing a large stockpile of cluster munitions.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said cluster munitions are regarded by the US as:

“Legitimate weapons with clear military utility.”

As Richard Kidd, Director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, U.S. Department of State, wrote in “Is There a Strategy for Responsible U.S. Engagement on Cluster Munitions?” April 28, 2008:

“Cluster munitions are available for use by every combat aircraft in the U.S. inventory, they are integral to every Army or Marine maneuver element and in some cases constitute up to 50 percent of tactical indirect fire support.”

Yet, incredibly, the alleged war crime of bombing Misrata is also being used by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other authorities to justify an escalation of the conflict in Libya.

The US government position in favour of the use of cluster munitions, their widespread possession by US forces and the weakening of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to accommodate nations fighting in coalition with US forces,  implicates the US government in the use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world.

The Battle for Misrata

As part of the investigation, HRI is looking into both land and naval forces  involved in the Misrata operation, as the specific units involved, operating at night, who made use of the cluster munitions is not yet clear.

There is no doubt that this was fierce urban warfare, with hundreds killed in the battle and NATO, including US Naval forces, about which HRI has written, were deeply involved.

On the 14th of April, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen confirmed that Admiral Stavridis had briefed foreign ministers that Gadaffi’s forces were now in populated areas and that “to avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment.”

Certainly coalition forces were providing fire support and (allegedly) special services support to the rebels in order to secure the town for the rebels and establish a major foothold in western Libya.

Our update on the bombing of Misrata shows that on the eve of the Royal Wedding, NATO admitted to using “certain weapons” within the city of Misrata and some more detail on this has been provided by the RAF.

So it is quite clear that coalition forces were deeply involved in the bombing of Misrata, using deadly force in a civilian area, contrary to the spirit of UN Resolution 1973.

Human Rights Investigations calls for:

1). A full investigation by the United Nations into the use of munitions (including cluster munitions and DU weapons), particularly in urban areas.

2) For all parties in the Libyan conflict to confirm they will not use cluster munitions in the current conflict and to pledge to sign up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

3). Suspension of military personnel found to be involved pending investigation for war crimes.

4). An end to the ‘information war’ and military distortion of the public debate.

5). An end to the ongoing bombing of Libya which is against the spirit and intent of UN Resolution 1973 which was intended to protect civilians, not justify bombing of civilian areas.

37 responses to The use of cluster munitions in Misrata

  1. 

    If you want to see another good source of info, please check out this blog done by a Spanish lady that is now (date: may 25 2011) in Libya and has friends there:
    http://leonorenlibia.blogspot.com/

    Click the following link to vote & sign for the end of the war in Libya:
    Collecting signatures to Stop the War in Libya

  2. 

    Nato has confirmed that one of its cluster bombs aimed at an airfield target in the Yugoslav city of Nis may have mistakenly hit a civilian area.

    Special Report
    Fifteen people died after the daylight Nato strike, which hit a hospital and market place. BBC News – -> Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK

    NATO’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Yugoslavia
    May 10, 1999

    The U.S. Defense Department at the end of April announced a move toward the use of more “area weapons” in Operation Allied Force. At the same time, there are reports of NATO’s growing shortage of precision-guided weapons. These factors suggest NATO may increasingly rely on unguided (“dumb”) weapons, including so-called cluster bombs.
    HUMAN RIGHT WATCH

    and … what we will do with this facts?

    • 

      And now, this pattern is seen in play at another charge against the Libyan government. As is well known, one of the past weeks’ charges brought up against the Libyan government was that it laid land mines. Since it is well known that landmines are only used by rogue states like the U.S. and Israel, the accusation fits well to discredit the Libyan government internationally, of course. Right in front of the cameras of the worlld media rebels dug out some land mines in Ajdabiya, and then is was claimed, that „Gaddafi’s forces“ buried them there before. Of course, nobody in the western mass propaganda told their consuments, that the rebels were only able to dig out the land mines there with there bare hands because they themselves had dig them in there before, so that they knew that the mines were disabled. Since the charge of laying of landmines is hard to refute and always suitable to discredit an opponent, the fascist Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini added promptly to the charge, claiming that troops loyal to Gaddafi laid land mines around the rebel-dominated town Misrata in the West. Of course, he did not provide evidence for his claim, just as Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron didn’t backup their claims with evidence before neither.
      And now this. In a side note Xan Rice wrote yesterday in the Guardian, that rebels were seen laying land mines in the vicinity of Ajdabiya:
      „Rebels were also seen laying anti-tank mines at the eastern gate of the city, highlighting their fears that Gaddafi’s forces could retake the town.“
      And there are photos of rebels laying landmines in Ajdabiya, too, eg here –> http://www.daylife.com/photo/08Zj2SYc93dlI?__site=daylife&q=Ajdabiya ,
      here — > http://www.daylife.com/photo/04MO2V02Su93t?__site=daylife&q=Ajdabiya
      and here — > http://www.daylife.com/photo/0fifgXs8ssbfW?__site=daylife&q=Ajdabiya .

      In the pictures it looks as if each one of the disorganized rebels, who feels like, gets a mine to bury it somewhere next to the streets or in open areas. Oops.
      The victims, who will be torn apart by the mines llater, may then also want to thank NATO for that, which made the mine laying possible with it’s bombing campaign.

    • 

      Thank you Tatjana. Historical context and ‘previous form’ are important to this investigation. What to do with this information? – Disseminate, discuss, build on, network, tweet, blog. Propagandists and human rights abusers rely on secrecy and feed on ignorance.

      • 

        Thank you HRI Mark in the name of all “ordinary” people in the world.

  3. 
    stop bombing ! May 28, 2011 at 06:45

    Stop Bombing to Save Civilians …
    its insane !

  4. 
    Jürgen Gundlach May 30, 2011 at 09:41

    He blind eyed, its you, who continues the information war. Go on with your investigation and explain these mountains of shot ammunition found at the airport of Misrata. They give me an idea of Daffis war against its one people. This is the point. Therefore I am glad, that NATO tries to stop him.

    • 

      Thank you, Jurgen, for that clip. The video commentary seems to answer your specific question (“I’m standing in the crater of an ammunition depot that was taken out by NATO“).

      Al Jazeera is an important source of information, but their commentary does have to be analysed carefully – obviously Qatar is far from a democratic state and the Qataris are currently heavily involved in the war in Libya.

      It is interesting that this report was broadcast on 27th May – the airport was captured on 11 May.

      Mr Kamaledin Elwash appears to be under the impression that cleaning up the airport would be significant for the coalition military campaign – it isn’t. Even if they decided to stretch UN Resolution 1973 to allow them to operate from bases inside Libya, the coalition forces are much happier operating from their seabases which are safe controlled environments and logistically efficient.

      the other thing is that

      • 

        Al Jazeera … hm …
        one of the most professional news networks in the world, it has to be cautioned thatAl Jazeera is not a neutral actor. It is subordinate to the Emir of Qatar and the Qatari government, which is also an autocracy. By picking and choosing what to report, Al Jazeera’s coverage of Libya is biased.
        This is evident when one studies Al Jazeera’s coverage of Bahrain, which has been restrained due to political ties between the leaders of Bahrain and Qatar.
        Reports by Al Jazeera about Libyan jets firing on protesters in Tripoli and the major cities are unverified and questionable. Hereto, the reports that Libyan jets have been attacking people in the streets have not been verified. No visual evidence of the jet attacks has been shown, while visual confirmation about other events have been coming out of Libya.
        Al Jazeera is not alone in its biased reporting from Libya. The Saudi media is also relishing the events in Libya. Asharq Al-Awsat is a Saudi-owned paper that is strictly aligned to U.S. interests in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. Its editor-in-chief is now running editorials glorifying the Arab League for their decision to suspend Libya, because of the use of force by Tripoli against Libyans protesters –why were such steps not taken for Bahrain, or Yemen? Inside and outside the Arab World, the mainstream media is creating the conditions for some sort of intervention in Libya.

  5. 

    Clinton noted ‘one of the reasons the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges’. What brazen cold disregard for civilian lives she displays in choosing to meet that challenge with cluster munitions. The choice was for ‘street cred’, nothing more: do as they say or pay the price. But this is longterm strategy, as witnessed for example in Lebanon. Just this past week another civilian was killed by a cluster bomb used nearly five years ago. A purposeful reminder.

    Thanks for an insightful study–

  6. 
    Mahdi Al-Gathafi May 30, 2011 at 11:33

    Instalaza won three licenses for the sale of cluster bombs to Libya in 2007 amounting to 3.83 million euros. The operation is materialized in early 2008.

    http://www.comercio.mityc.es/NR/rdonlyres/AA543A13-850B-4888-80A3-1DC24EC17CDD/0/INFORMEESTADISTICASMDOMYDU2007.pdf

    http://www.noticias.com/instalaza-pide-40-millones-por-la-prohibicion-de-las-bombas-de-racimo.1077493

    and others

    • 

      Thank you Mahdi, you inadvertently make the point perfectly. Perhaps, it is explained more clearly here.

      Cinco Dias (the source of the noticias report you link to) and others have made an assumption based on a misreading of the Spanish Government Report which is on Comercio (you have linked to the Spanish version) and also on Sipri.org (English and Spanish versions)

      In short, the MAT-120 is a mortar ammunition – which makes it a category 3 munition. No category 3 munitions were exported to Libya from Spain in 2007 or 2008.

  7. 

    Todays update – an added image of some Spanish-made cluster bombs (these ones are variants of the BME-330 made by Expal Explosivos SA).

  8. 

    A few changes to the text today to reflect the fact that the MAT-120 is officially a cluster munition and not a cluster bomb.

  9. 

    Hey, excellent work here. I’m taking a slow look at this allegation. I’m not convinced, but one way or another, the propaganda value outweighs the tactical value by such a huge margin it’s plain silly (or worse) to just presume this was a Libyan government attack.

    Have a space ready for my opinions on this, FYI:

    http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2011/06/us-cluster-bombed-misrata.html

    Feel free to link up or anything.

  10. 

    Quite a few updates to the original posting today – especially in regard to the Spanish government licenses and exports of cluster bombs (corrections, clarifications and adding sources) and updating the title.

    Many thanks to those who have provided additional infomation.

  11. 

    Update today, principally relating to the possible use of 120mm mortars and the landing craft pictured on USS Ponce .

  12. 

    Update 27th June 2011 – According to Nicholas Marsh, who is an expert in these matters, in today’s NISAT blog, “There is a blurred division between weapon categories, and especially ML3 and ML4.”

    Nicholas Marsh has presented evidence showing different states categorise mortar bombs as ML3 and ML4 and sometimes both.

    The main importance of this for the Misrata investigation is that the MAT-120 could well have been placed in ML4 by Spain. According to the Spanish Export Reports, Libya, Qatar and the USA all received ML4 munitions in 2007/08.

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