Archives For NATO bombing

Guernica by Picasso

According to NATO’s own figures, Sirte has been bombed with 340 “key hits” from 25th August to 16th September. (we have been tracking the official NATO numbers in War: what is it good for – absolutely nothing.)

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Mohamed and Motez al-Mrabet, ages 5 and 3 and their mother Ibtisam were killed by RAF / NATO bombs in Zlitan on Thurday.

CNN reports that at the funeral Abubakr Ali watched volunteers carefully bury the bodies of his sister and two nephews next to the neighborhood mosque. According the family a third child, Naji aged 8, is in serious condition in hospital.

“This was a civilian home. No army, no military, no Gadhafi forces. It’s a family sleeping safely in their place,” he said. “This is the protection of civilians.”

This follows quickly upon the attacks on the Libyan water infrastructure and on a clinic in Zlitan.

Footage of the reaction of people of Zlitan, relatives and of the victims (graphic):

NATO’s regular email update indicates they have hit the following key targets on Thursday:

In the vicinity of Zlitan : 1 Ammunition Storage Facility, 1 Military Facility, 2 Multiple Rocket Launchers, 1 Surface to Air Missal [sic] System . (To which can be appended 1 House, 2 Kids 1 Mother)

Tweet by Maj Gen Nick Pope, the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer and Ministry of Defence spokesman on military operations, omits any mention of the civilians killed:

Can you imagine if they had been American or British?

An article in The Telegraph reports that there is a strong racial element in the conflict between Misrata and Zlitan, with many inhabitants of Zlitan being descendents of slaves. Human Rights Investigations has reported before on the ethnic cleansing of Misrata and on the Misratan “Brigade to purge slaves, black skin.”

The RAF is now acting as the air arm to this ethnic cleansing.

NATO jets have been attacking food stores and destroyed a health clinic in Zlitan. The CNN report by Ivan Watson and Jomana Karadsheh  from Zlitan, a town half-way between Tripoli and Misrata provides further evidence of how NATO and the rebels are working together closely in a military campaign, not to protect civilians but to conquer anti-rebel areas for the National Transitional Council.

The report quotes local official Ramadan Mohamad Ramadan as saying:

“People here call NATO the crazy one which lost its sanity, it is waging wide-scale war on the people. They are destroying everything.”

Ramadan was standing in front of the rubble of a health clinic that he said had been demolished by a pre-dawn attack on Monday. Several bulldozers dug through wreckage strewn with medical supplies, including syringes, medication and even a microscope.

Government officials said they were looking for the bodies of three people believed to be buried underneath, and said the bodies of eight people had been pulled out earlier in the day.

This is a relevant tweet from Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer and Ministry of Defence spokesman on military operations Major General Nick Pope:

As the rebels push forward, so loyalist forces and anti-rebel civilians concentrate forces to counter them – presenting targets for the NATO jets. The report from Zlitan indicates the RAF has no great compunction about bombing targets in urban areas (if anyone thought they might have). The fact the civilian population, which came out against the rebels in massive demonstations in Zlitan not long ago, has largely chosen to flee the rebel advance is significant.

It is obvious that dark-skinned Libyans and pro-Gaddafi civilians will want to avoid falling under the control of openly racist and murderous rebel brigades. Presuming the rebels do take control of a mainly empty Zlitan (as they have of empty towns in the Nafusa) it will be interesting to see how long for. As their supply lines become extended they are subject to counter-attack, particularly by the inhabitants of the towns they have conquered.

As is common with desert warfare, the main aim of the rival militaries is not so much control of territory (which is important for civilians and for propaganda purposes) but destruction of the opposition. In the unlikely event the rebels ever make it to the gates of Tripoli, the destruction which would be meted out to the civilians and defenders of that city can scarcely be imagined.

Huamn Rights Investigations condemns this war crime and calls for an immediate end to the bombing of Libya.

Paveway bomb

The Great Man-Made River

It is a war crime to attack essential civilian infrastructure. 95% of Libya is desert and 70% of Libyans depend on water which is piped in from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System under the southern desert. The water pipe infrastructure is probably the most essential civilian infrastructure in Libya. Key to its continued function, particularly in time of war, is the Brega pipe factory which enables leaks and breaks in the system to be repaired.

NATO has admitted that its jets attacked the pipe factory on 22 July, claiming in justification that it was used as a military storage facility and rockets were launched from there.

The Great Man-Made River

Libyans like to call the Great Man-Made River “The eighth wonder of the world”.

According to a March 2006 report by the BBC  the industrialisation of Libya following the Great Al-Fatah Revolution in 1969, put strain on water supplies and coastal aquifers became contaminated with sea water, to such an extent that the water in Benghazi was undrinkable. Finding a supply of fresh, clean water became a government priority and fortunately oil exploration in the 1950s had revealed vast aquifers beneath Libya’s southern desert.

In August 1984, Muammar Al Qadhafi laid the foundation stone for the pipe production plant at Brega. The Great Man-Made River Project had begun. Adam Kuwairi, a senior figure in the Great Man-Made River Authority (GMRA), vividly remembers the impact the fresh water had on him and his family:

“The water changed lives. For the first time in our history, there was water in the tap for washing, shaving and showering. The quality of life is better now, and it’s impacting on the whole country.”

On 3 April  Libya warned that NATO-led air strikes could cause a “human and environmental disaster” if air strikes damaged the Great Man-Made River project.

Engineer and project manager Abdelmajid Gahoud told foreign journalists in Tripoli:

If part of the infrastructure is damaged, the whole thing is affected and the massive escape of water could cause a catastrophe,” leaving 4.5 million thirsty Libyans deprived of drinking water.

The Brega Pipe-Making Plant

The Pre-Stressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe Factory at Brega is one of only two such facilities in Libya – the other being at Sarir to the east. This makes it a very important component of the Great Man-Made River – with two production lines making up to 80 pipes a day.

According to the BBC:

The engineer in charge of the Brega pipe factory is Ali Ibrahim. He is proud that Libyans are now running the factory:

“At first, we had to rely on foreign-owned companies to do the work. But now it’s government policy to involve Libyans in the project. Libyans are gaining experience and know-how, and now more than 70% of the manufacturing is done by Libyans. With time, we hope we can decrease the foreign percentage from 30% to 10%.”

As a result, Libya is now a world leader in hydrological engineering and it wants to export its expertise to other African and Middle-Eastern countries facing similar problems with their water.

According to the official web site of the Great Man-Made River Authority:

Approximately 500,000 pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes have been manufactured to date. Approximately 500,000 pipes transported to date. Pipe transportation is continuous process  and the work goes on day and night, distance traveled by the transporters is equivalent to the sun and back. Over 3,700 km of haul roads  was constructed alongside the pipe line trench to enable the heavy truck – trailers to deliver pipe to the installation site.

NATO Attack

On 22 July NATO warplanes attacked the pipe making plant at Brega killing six of the facility’s security guards:

As you can see from Google Earth the 100s of pipes at this facility, out in the desert south of Brega, make it clear, even from the air, that this is a pipe-production plant:

Video footage shows a major building within the plant has been destroyed and there is also damage to at least one of the trucks which is used to transport pipes to places where repairs are required:

According to AP, Abdel-Hakim el-Shwehdy, head  of the company running the project, said:

“Major parts of the plant have been damaged. There could be major setback for the future  projects.”

Water supply to Brega Cut

On Monday 18 July rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told AFP that remnants of Gadhafi’s troops were holed up among industrial facilities in Brega with supplies dwindling.

“Their food and water supplies are cut and they now will not be able to sleep.”

Given the rebel boasts that the pro-Gadaffi forces in Brega had no water, the question has to be posed whether this attack was a deliberate attempt to prevent repair of the pipeline into Brega.

NATO Response

In response to HRI enquiry, NATO press office said:

We can confirm that we targeted Brega on July 22nd and we stroke successfully: one military storage facility and four armed vehicles.”

HRI requested clarification:

The building you hit (apparently in the Brega pipe factory) was being used for what kind of military storage?

What considerations were taken into account to ensure that the strikes did not damage civilian infrastructure or was damage to the civilian infrastructure considered legitimate?

Given the potential consequences to civilians of damage to the pipe factory and the ability of the engineers to be able to repair broken water pipelines I hope you will appreciate the importance of these questions.

At the 26th July at the NATO press conference in Naples  Colonel Rolond Lavoie, neglecting to inform the assembled journalists that the “concrete factory” plays an important role in preserving Libya’s water supply, said:

Now in the area of Brega, NATO strikes included armoured vehicles, rocket launchers, military storage facilities and a repurposed concrete factory from which Pro-Gaddafi forces were using multi-viral [sic] rocket launchers, exposing the population to indirect fire.

Let me show you some intelligence pictures that illustrate what we have observed at this concrete factory. By the way these pictures will be made available on the NATO site so it will be possible for the media can download them

So basically repeatedly over the last few weeks we got clear intelligence indicating that pro-Gadaffi forces are using this factory for military purposes. This factory is being used to hide military material including Multiple Rocket Launchers. These weapons have been used every day from within this factory compound and then carefully hidden after the day within or along massive pipes you can see in this picture.

Slide 1 20 July

Slide 2 23 July

Slide 1 20 July apparently shows a BM-21 rocket launcher -a model of rocket launcher widely used by both loyalist and rebel forces in Libya.

Slide 2 23 July apparently shows a BM-21 rocket launcher. The slide shows black smoke in the centre of the picture which suggests two hits (possibly on vehicles) have already been made, with the BM-21 left intact.

Neither slide appears to show the building which was destroyed in the video or helps to understand when or why that was hit. So the photos lead to more questions than they answer – clearly the BM-21, spotted on the 20th, was not considered a priority target, and there is nothing in the NATO explanation which explains why the water supplies of the Libyan people have now been put at such risk.

On 27th July further enquiries by HRI elicited the additional information that

The factory is being used to hide military material, including multiple rocket launchers. These weapons have been used every day from within this factory compound and then carefully hidden after the day within the factory buildings and the area. 

and

All sites that could be used by the pro-Qadhafi regime forces to threaten or attack civilians can be considered as a legitimate target by NATO in full accordance with UNSCR 1973. That resolution mandates the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians in Libya from attack or threat of attacks.

According to the NATO press office, the attack was within the rules of engagement agreed upon by all 28 countries in the coalition by consensus. It seems unlikely that the rules of engagement would allow this attack or that the states in the Security Council would agree that a devious interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 should supercede international humanitarian law.

NATO have failed to provide answers to the following questions:

  • Do you have any concrete evidence that rockets were fired from inside the pipe-making plant?
  • Can you explain the precise targeting and timing of strikes within this facility?
  •  What steps were taken to ensure collateral damage to the facility was avoided?
  • What alternatives were considered to military strikes on this factory?

Applicable humanitarian law

The Laws of War were designed to prevent attacks on targets indispensible to the civilian population, so attacking a civilian infrastructure target such as this plant is a war crime.

Even if rockets were being fired from within the location (for which no evidence has been produced) or this facility was being used for military storage by Gadaffi forces, or housed armoured vehicles, attacking the pipe-making factory in a way that leaves it severely damaged is illegal as this facility is important to the water supplies of Libyan civilians.

The citing of UNSCR 1973 does not supercede the need for NATO forces to obey the laws of war.

Applicable humanitarian law includes (inter alia):

Rule 15. In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 16. Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 17. Each party to the conflict must take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 18. Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to assess whether the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. [IAC/NIAC]

Rule 54. Attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population is prohibited.

Human Rights Investigations demands:

1) The immediate cessation of the bombing campaign by NATO which is putting Libyan civilians in mortal danger

2) A peace congress be convened to bring this conflict to a rapid end.

Will the victims of the NATO bombing of Libya see justice?

Evidence about the nature of the weapons used and contemplated from the HRI investigation and others including the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons is spreading through social media networks – but what can be done to ensure that:

1) Those who commit war crimes are prosecuted
2) The victims of the bombing of Libya get justice and 
3) The future use of cluster bombs by the forces involved in Libya is limited?

Although US and Qatari forces have insulated themselves from the ICC’s jurisdiction, those of other forces involved, importantly including those who have members in the NATO command structure, have not.

Although there are concerns about the way the current ICC prosecutor operates and his exclusive prosecution of Africans his reign is nearing its end and a new prosecutor may be less biased.

Although the USA refuses to sign the Convention against Cluster Munitions, most of the other members of the coalition have signed up. Notably, Italy has recently ratified and Naples is one of the main headquarters of the coalition operation in Libya.

Although the major “crime of aggression” is currently almost impossible to prosecute in international law, due mainly to the larger powers wishing to retain their right to attack weaker nations whenever they wish, other war crimes in international armed conflicts can be prosecuted. Indeed:

The domestic legislation of a large number of states provides for universal jurisdiction for grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Although the mass media eagerly publishes any pro-war propaganda, social media, including blogs, facebook and twitter offer the opportunity for citizens to network, inform and support one another in the fight against human rights abuses and war crimes.

Although the specialised units to investigate war crimes in a number of countries (including Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, USA and Canada) are very slow in producing any results at all, the HRI investigation shows what can be achieved by a citizen-blog in a very short space of time.

Although the US investigation unit cost $2.6 million in 2008/09, the cost of setting up a unit in the UK is estimated as £1.34 million and the costs of investigation have been cited as the main obstacle to setting up units in other countries, the HRI investigation is currently entirely voluntary and expenses so far are minimal.

HRI is linking in with legal rights groups and human rights solicitors and will be publicising information about the best routes for the victims of the conflict in Libya to achieve justice and perpetrators of war crimes in this conflict to be prosecuted.

The investigation continues – to inform, to encourage debate – and also to gather evidence.

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.

Amnesty International have published a flawed report on human rights violations in Misratah.

Of the MAT-120 the author states “Spain sold these to Libya in 2007.”

Asked for evidence, one of Amnesty’s writers pointed to speculative reports in the Spanish press.

The report is one-sided, with almost no mention, let alone criticism of the rebels or of the military intervention in Libya. There is little historical context and no attempt to understand the nature of the conflict in Libya or to even discuss considering the conflict in terms of a war of aggression.

The only context given to the conflict is in the footnotes, where it is briefly explained that,

As anti-government protests rocked Misratah – Libya’s third largest city – on 19 February, the first protester was killed by forces loyal to Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi. His funeral the following day drew large crowds and, as was happening elsewhere in eastern Libya, most members of the army and security forces left the town (and a small percentage joined the protesters). The (mostly light) weapons left behind by the departing forces were seized by the thuuwar (or revolutionaries, referring to the protesters who took up arms against Colonel al-Gaddafi’s regime) and shortly after, the city declared its allegiance to the Interim Transitional National Council (TNC) based in Benghazi (Libya’s second city, in the east of the country).

There is no discussion of the smuggling of arms and fighters into the city, under the guise of humanitarian aid, even though the footnotes allude to this smuggling and that it includes 106mm rockets.

Reading this report, you would have little idea that NATO have been bombing inside the city of Misrata for the last four weeks, as reported here and as even NATO have admitted.

NATO admitted today that it had been bombing inside the city of Misrata for the last three weeks using “certain weapons” which differentiate between pro-and anti-Gadaffi fighters. None of the assembled press corps asked the obvious question – in an urban environment how do bombs differentiate between the warring sides and civilians?

Its Royal Wedding day and a good day to release the information in front of a supine crowd of journalists at the end of a long press conference – with no transcript provided for the lazy journalists.

So today Brigadier Rob Weighill, Operations Director of Operation Unified Protector, delivered this information:

“NATO, for the last three weeks, has been using certain weapons, in certain parts of the city, where we can discriminate between anti-and pro-Gadaffi forces and we have been very successful in supporting the anti-Gadaffi forces in pushing their perimeter out.”

The bombing of the city of Misrata by NATO forces should be condemned by human rights organisations.

Brigadier Weighill tried to duck the question of whether NATO would allow weapons to be transported from one Libyan port to another – with the clear implication that the rebels would be allowed (as “the forces protecting civilians”) but the loyalist forces not.

It is unfortunately clear that NATO has been allowing military logistics into the city of Misrata to resupply the rebels, under the guise of humanitarian shipments.

As Ruth Sherlock reported on her voyage into Misrata, when challenged by NATO forces,

“The rebel fighters tore cardboard boxes into signs, scribbling “Misrata logistics” in barely discernible green ink, shouting “Allahu akhbar” and trying to give the “V” for victory sign.”

The smuggling of weapons shipments under the guise of aid shipments should be condemned by human rights organisations and is a violation of international law.