Archives For Libya

The BBC coverage of Libya

August 25, 2011 — 8 Comments

The coverage by the British Broadcasting Company of Libya has been ignorant, lazy, orientalist and biased. Anyone looking for real information on what is happening in Libya, Syria or any other country has to turn to social media – blogs and twitter.

One of the main problems for mainstream journalists is that they see what they want to see and ignore what doesn’t fit into the narrative provided to them by their most trusted sources – the government officials and intelligence agencies of the western powers.

Stories which don’t fit the narrative are ignored or downplayed – for instance the RAF bombing of Zlitan, the lynchings of black people including at rebel HQ in Benghazi, the ethnic cleansing in Misrata and Tawergha.

The cumulative effect of looking the wrong way, pursuing a narrative at odds with reality, lazily repeating government spin (propaganda) is a profound ignorance of actual reality and this clip of BBC news anchors illusrates the point.

The two presenters are Eton-educated Bill Turnbull and Kate Silverton, both experienced and regular BBC news presenters.

Bill Turnbull says: “Let’s take you live to Tripoli. We want to show you some pictures there. This is people in Tripoli, in the centre. I think its Green Square, renamed Martry’s Square…”

Kate Silverton says: “Officially I suppose still Green Square, but renamed by those, but as you can see a mass, a huge throng of people now turning out.”

The magnificent duo fail to explain why the people of Tripoli are waving Indian flags.

Of course other channels have made similar mistakes – eg Fox and Sky showing people celebrating in Benghazi whilst claiming they are in Tripoli.

Update 26th August:

BBC and Al Jazeera have been showing terrified black men being rounded up on their news. As they have consistently avoided reporting on racist atrocities in Libya they can not provide any context to this and repeat rebel claims they are “mercenaries.” In other words the BBC is uncritically justifying a racist pogrom.

This is an update on the recent HRI report on the RAF bombing of Zlitan which reportedly killed 85 civilians including children.

According to the BBC (who have avoided reporting that the RAF as the perpetrator):

Almost 48 hours after the first strike hit the cluster of buildings in the countryside to the south of Zlitan, Nato said it had completed its assessment of what happened.

It confirmed it had hit the area, targeting four buildings and nine vehicles at the site between 23.33 on Monday and 02.34 on Tuesday.

The times for the strikes correspond with those given by people in the area.

Nato went on: “We monitored this military compound very carefully before striking.”

“Our assessment, based on the level of destruction of the buildings, confirms the likelihood of military and mercenary casualties. The allegation of civilian casualties made by the Gaddafi regime was not corroborated by available factual information at the site.”

Now further video evidence has emerged. This is highly disturbing footage and shows body parts and dead children as well as the grief and anger of the survivors and relatives of the dead in the immediate aftermath and at the hospital. It is clear that those helping survivors of the first strike were hit by the second and third strikes.


The bombing of a “staging area” in Zlitan on the night of 8/9 August is confirmed on the RAF web site.

This raid, launched from RAF Marham was a night-time raid using GR4 Tornados as part of Operation Ellamy. The weapons used were either Paveway 4 or more likely Brimstone bombs which cost £105,000 each. As it was a night-time raid the most likely squadron responsible was the 9 Squadron (motto: “Throughout the night we fly” which is based at RAF Marham. (other squadrons based there and include the 31 Squadron, 13 Squadron and 2(AC) Squadron). After the mission was completed the planes involved landed at Gioia del Colle in Italy.

There is more information on the Tornado and the Brimstone thanks to a presentation given by pilot Fl Lt Mark Lawson and Weapons Systems Officer Fl Lt James Cooke of 9 Squadron , who took time out from attacking Libya to give a presentation at the stand of the Brimstone bomb manufacturer MBDA (Motto: “Lock on to MBDA solutions” based at 11 Strand, London) at the Paris Air Show arms fair.

Responsibility for the bombing of a civilian area at night and the inevitable civilian casualities lies with the military leadership of NATO including Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard and Admiral Stavridis and on the political leadership including William Hague and David Cameron who must have given the go-ahead to an atttack of this nature.

Evidence of US intelligence agents being directly involved in the battle in Libya is provided by American photojournalist Derek Henry Flood:

Ghazaya is up in the Nafusa mountains:

The rebels in the Nafusa have shown a penchant for looting and killing prisoners, so it isn’t surprising these Americans weren’t too keen on being rumbled up there.

Its worth remembering that in passing Resolution 1973 the Security Council mandated protection of civilians:

while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council

It is doubtful that the presence of these intel officers has been reported to the Security Council and even more doubtful that it would be approved, given that Lebanon’s speaker stressed that the text would not result in the occupation of “one inch” of Libyan territory by foreign forces.

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. 


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.

The self-appointed Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) has now been recognised by the British government as the sole representative of Libya. Regular readers of Human Rights Investigations will be aware of the involvement of the Libyan rebels in lynchings, ethnic cleansing, abusing corpses and incitements to racial violence. The attempt to impose the former Libyan Government officials of the NTC on the people of Libya is another example of delusional behaviour likely to reinforce the anti-colonial credentials of the authorities in Tripoli, to extend the conflict, impact badly on the human rights situation and put the Libyan people in yet greater danger.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil (aka Mustapha Abdel Jalil)

Chairman of the NTC is Mustafa Abdel Jalil. He was born in the Al-Bayda area in eastern Libya in 1952 and was a player for Al-Bayda Football Club for a spell (Perhaps where he received the recognisable indentation on his forehead).

Mustafa Abdel Jalil with Abdel Fattah Younis

He studied at Gar Younis University, Benghazi before moving on to the Islamic University where he studied Sharia and Law, graduating with honours in 1975. He was assistant to the Public Prosecutor  before becoming a judge in 1978.  In 2002 he became president of the Court of Appeal and in 2007 was named President of the Court in Al-Bayda before quickly moving on to becoming Justice Minister (Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Justice).

In his role as Secretary of the General People’s Committee he endorsed death sentences but offered his resignation on 28th January 2010. He was upset at 300 members of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ (LIFG – an Al Qaeda-linked group) being kept in prison and also at separate releases of prisoners on death row, without the consent of relatives.

Disputes over the release of the members of the LIFG were a key bone of contention within the Libyan authorities before the outbreak of the current hostilities. Officials were trying to minimise the influence of  pro-Al Qaeda militants in the east of the country. (Libyans formed the second largest foreign contingent of Al Qaeda in Iraq).

Against the wishes of internal security officials, Saif al Islam helped organise the release of the remaining 110 prisoners, after they had renounced violence, on 16 February 2011.

Reports indicate Mustafa Abdel Jalil was dispatched by Tripoli to negotiate with the rebels at the beginning of the current Libyan conflict:

The group calls itself the “Islamic Emirate of Barqa,” after the ancient name of a region of northwest Libya, and the official said its leadership is made up of former Al-Qaeda fighters previously released from jail.

The official said the same group was responsible for the hanging of two policemen in Al-Baida on Friday that was reported in Oea newspaper.

Justice Minister Mustafa Abdeljalil started negotiations late on Saturday for the hostage-takers to release their captives, he said. “But we will not negotiate over Libya’s integrity under any circumstances.”

As it turned out, Jalil decided to defect.

Abdel Fattah Younes al-Obeidi

Chief of Staff of the rebels was Abdel Fatah Younes was head of Special Forces and then Interior Minister under Gadaffi. He was rumoured to have been responsible for killings of demonstrators outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi in 2006. A member of the eastern Obeidi tribe, internet chatter suggests he had a lot of enemies amongst the rebel forces. His death was announced on 28 July in mysterious circumstances, after he had been picked up by at 4.00am and taken from the front line at Brega, interrogated by a ‘panel of judges’ in Benghazi and then ‘released on his own cognisance.’

Khalifa Belqasim Haftar

Khalifa Belqasim Haftar was one of Gadaffi’s commanders in Chad, before falling out with the regime and setting up a CIA funded militia. For many years he lived 5 miles from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Returned to Libya to command the rebels but replaced in the top spot by his major rival Abdel Fattah Younis.

Ali Al-Issawi (aka Essawi)

Ali Abd-al-Aziz al-Isawi previously served as Secretary of the General People’s Committee of Libya (GPCO) for Economy, Trade, and Investment. His move from this post, according a Wikileaks disclosure citing the French Embassy in Tripoli was “related to accusations of corruption.” He is now responsible for foreign affairs for the National Transitional Council.

At the time of the 2000 race riots, the then Minister al-Isawi — stated about the African presence:

“They are a burden on health care, they spread disease, crime. They are illegal.”

Prospects for the National Transitional Council

The members of the rebel council have been calling for NATO support and military intervention from the beginning, firstly to make up for their lack of popular support and perhaps also as a bulwark against members of the Islamic Fighting Group (now renamed the Libyan Islamic Movement (LIM)) who, with their experience in fighting in Iraq, form a key element of the Libyan rebel forces.

There are varying reports about the extent of Al Qaeda influence among the rebels but the appalling atrocities committed, public lynchings and beheadings and their uploading to the internet, indicate the influence is strong.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have called upon their followers to support the rebellion.

Internet chatter amongst these rebels suggests there is some anger at the NTC issuing statements disowning Al Qaeda. However, NATO air support is essential for the rebels so it remains to be seen how long it will be before open hostilities break out between the old regime elements and the jihadist elements.

Update 28th July

A clean-shaven Mustafa Abdel Jalil announces the death of Abdel Fatah Younes – shot after having, according to Jalil, been released from interrogation on his own cognisance.

Dr Mahmoud Jibril and Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen meet tomorrow. Given the atrocities committed in Misrata and Benghazi the option of allowing the rebels to conquer pro-Gaddafi population centres is inconceivable – there is now only one option – and that option is peace.

NATO press release:

The Head of the Executive Body of the TNC, Dr Mahmoud Jibril will visit NATO Headquarters on Wednesday 13 July 2011 and meet with the Secretary General, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He will also be addressing an informal meeting of the NATO Council and contributing partners to operation Unified Protector.

Abdul Elah al-Khatib, U.N. special envoy for Libya has said:

“I’m urging the parties to increase their focus on working towards a political solution. We would like to see indirect negotiations evolve into direct ones. Enough Libyans have lost their lives. It should be clear that any lasting end to the conflict will require a political solution, and this solution must fulfill the Libyan people’s legitimate aspirations for a peaceful and democratic future. Fighting to the bitter end will only lead to more unnecessary suffering.”

Update 13 July 2011

Following the meeting a press release has been issued by the NATO Secretary-General. Here is the important part:

We agreed on three things.

First, that NATO’s operations to protect civilians must continue. Qadhafi’s forces are still threatening innocent people. And as long as that threat continues, we must continue to deal with it.

Second, that the Qadhafi regime has lost all legitimacy.

Third, that there has to be a political solution. Led by Libyans. Supported by the international community. And fulfilling the legitimate demands of the Libyan people – as the United Nations Security Council demanded.

The time to find a solution is now.

For the people of Libya – who have the right to live without violence and fear; the right to plan their own future; and whose legitimate aspirations must be met.

We will see what happens over the next hours – clearly the Transitional National Council and Government of Libya need to meet and enter negotiations for a political settlement as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, hostilities should be wound down on all sides with all military forces refraining from offensive action. NATO should also scale back actions to the purely symbolic as further loss of life can not be justified.

Libyan Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A far better alternative to the ICC (given all the circumstances) to deal with crimes committed on either side of the conflict, will be a Libyan Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This should be staffed by Libyans with agreed international support and a Security Council resolution confirming this arrangement, with all required guarantees, should be achievable.

Transitional Arrangements

Clearly, Libya must remain a single state. However, it seems perfectly sensible that transitional arrangements recognise de facto administrative control of areas as they stand today with joint committees formed to tackle immediate issues of humanitarian aid, return of displaced persons and so forth.

New Constitution

The process of formulating a new constitution is a process which needs to involve the Libyan people as a whole. It is clear that it is in the interests of all involved that this process (which will take some time) improves human rights in Libya, builds social cohesion, prevents a return to conflict and allows Libya to follow its own independent path, free of outside interference.

In our humble opinion, the parties should not try to preempt the Libyan people’s wishes with regard to who will hold particular positions in Libya in the future. A referendum on a new constitution which strengthens democratic accountability and provides for elections for president is perhaps in everyone’s interests.

Update 2 13th July

Secretary General, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen is travelling to the Hague.

Update 3 – 13th July

NATO Supreme Commander, Admiral Stavridis is travelling to Italy to talk to Italian leaders about Libya and Afghanistan. The admiral should be fully aware of the significance of the massacres of Benghazi and Misrata.

Update 15th July

Meeting of the Libya Contact Group

The full text of the Chair’s statement is on this Turkish site. The text of the African Union statement is also of interest.

There is clearly a heavy burden on all regional players to support peace efforts and avoid actions which will undermine the talks and encourage beligerent elements.

The statement of the TNC that they don’t want a ceasefire during Ramadan is particularly despicable, coming on the back of the overwhelming evidence of the most appalling atrocities by their supporters and the ongoing efforts by individuals within their ranks to incite racial violence in the country.

Towards an understanding of amphibious warfare and the battle of Misrata

It is important for human rights investigators to understand battle tactics and strategy and in this case those of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC). The plan below from the NECC (October 2010) helps understand the tactics and strategy informing the US forces battle plans for expeditionary warfare.

An explanation of the various acronyms involved:

The light blue arrow marked SEABASE has CSG / MPS (F) underneath – These stand for Carrier Strike Group and Maritime Prepositioning Force. It is an important tenet of modern expeditionary warfare that seabasing is actually preferred to land basing – a lot of the hullabaloo about “boots on the ground” is pretty irrelevant to this kind of warfare, which aims to minimise the footprint of coalition forces. The arrow shows how force is projected from the SEABASE, including logistics sustainment, power projection and sealift.

The green arrrow marked MAGTF refers to Marine Air Ground Task Force. ARG means Amphibious Ready Group. LOTS refers to Logistics Over the Shore. STOM is a Ship to Objective manoevre. Forcible Entry should be self-explanatory.

The tan arrow refers to shipping traffic into a port, as was obviously the case with Misrata, with ships delivering humanitarian aid, evacuating people and bringing in fighters, journalists, weapons and ammunition.

The smaller white bubbles in the sea include (from the bottom upwards):

MESF – Maritime Expeditionary Security Force. This includes the MSRONs (Marine Expeditionary Squadrons aka as “Rons”) who use CB-90s.

SPOD Seaport of debarkation and APOD – Aerial Port of Debarkation.

The other bubbles on land (clockwise from the bottom) refer to:

ELSG / AOTS – Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, Automated Tracking System

EOD / – Explosive Ordnance Disposal

NCF – Naval Construction Force

ELSG – Expeditionary Logistics Support Group

MCAST – Marine Corp Air Station

The yellow arrow represents a logistic flow from the airport into the city

The context of this plan includes the development of SFA-capable forces. SFA is unified action to generate, employ and sustain local, host nation or regional forces in support of a legitimate authority.

Map of Misrata

Below is a google map of Misrata, showing the location of the port at the bottom, city and airport at the top middle

Google Map of Misrata

US Navy ships off the coast of Libya

The main ships from the United States Navy – ie “supporting Operation Unified Protector, off the coast of Libya” on the 14th and 15th April were attached to the Kearsarge Amphibious Group – Kearsarge (LHD-3) itself was in port in Augusta Bay, Sicily during the nights on which cluster munitions were used in Misrata.

The first ship is the USS Barry (DG-52) which is a destroyer and probably the destroyer spotted by CJ Chivers off the coast of Misrata.

Here is USS Barry earlier in the Libyan operation firing Tomahawk missiles into Libya:

Interestingly, the commanding Officer of USS Barry used to be Admiral James G Stavridis, the Admiral who is particularly keen on information wars and controlling the internet.

RHIB going from USS Ponce to Barry on 14th April

The second ship of interest is the USS Ponce (LPD-15), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock. An amphibious transport dock is a warship that embarks, transports and lands elements of a landing force for expeditionary warfare missions. This ship had something of the order of 851 enlisted servicemen and 72 officers on board.

USS Barry Personnel return from USS Ponce April 15 2011

Below we can see a landing craft docking in the well of the USS Ponce. This vessel could perhaps provide a platform for the use of indirect fire, including 120mm mortar fire.

LCU 1661 in training in Djibouti in October 2010:

Interestingly, shortly after the Misrata operation, both the skipper and executive officer of USS Ponce, Commander Etta Jones and Lt. Cmdr. Kurt Boenisch, were relieved of their commands.

The third ship, of interest, is the USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) which is a dock landing ship and travelled through the Suez canal to join the others on April 13th, the day before the cluster bombing of Misrata. A dock landing ship is a form of amphibious warship designed to support amphibious operations. These amphibious assault ships transport and launch amphibious craft and vehicles with their crews and embarked personnel. usually these forces would be marines and/or special forces.

Marine Forces

Embarked on these ships were units, including the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (26MEU) and Naval Beach Group Two (NBG2), TACRON 21, Assault Craft Unit Four (ACU-4) and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO TWO (HSC-22).

The commander of the task force was Captain Dan Shaffer – who doubled up as Commander Task Force 65 (CTF-65) and Commander Destroyer Squadron 60 (DESRON60).

Kearsarge ARG was relieved on 27 April by Bataan ARG.

The Bataan ARG includes PHIBRON-6, with detachments from Naval Beach Group Two (CNBG) 2, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 21, Fleet Surgical Team Six (FST) 8, Helicopter Squadron Twenty Two (HSC) 28, Beach Master Unit (BMU) 2, Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 2 and ACU-4. ARG ships include the Norfolk-based Bataan, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and the dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).

The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) comprised of the Command Element, Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, and Combat Logistics Battalion 22.

Overall commander is Admiral Stavridis.

Extracts from the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya directly relevant to the use of cluster munitions in Libya:

 With regard to the use of weaponry, the commission is concerned that the Libyan authorities have not been making appropriate and precautionary assessments which would, in the commission’s view, militate against the use of weapons such as mortars in densely populated urban areas. The commission is also concerned about reports of the use of weapons such as expanding bullets, cluster munitions and phosphorous weapons in highly populated areas. Further investigation, however, including forensic analysis, would be needed to confirm the use of these ammunitions.

With regard to allegations concerning the conduct of hostilities by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the commission is not in a position at this stage to assess the veracity of the information received concerning indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The commission has not, however, seen evidence to suggest that civilians or civilian objects have been intentionally targeted by NATO forces, nor that it has engaged in indiscriminate attacks.

Finally, the commission feels that, at this stage, it is not in a position to identify those responsible, as requested by the Human Rights Council in the resolution establishing its mandate.

The commission, in view of the time frame within which it has had to complete its work, and considering the gravity and the complexity of the situation, recommends that the Human Rights Council remain seized of the situation by extending the mandate of the commission or by establishing a mechanism with the ability to continue the necessary investigations into both the human rights and humanitarian law situations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for a period of one year.

Page 63:

185. Cluster munitions. The Commission is aware of reports of the use of cluster munitions by pro-Government forces in their attempt to regain control of the besieged city of Misrata. On 15 April 2011, HRW reported that Government forces had fired cluster munitions in residential neighborhoods of Misrata further specifying that the cluster munitions were Spanish produced MAT 120mm mortar projectile, which open in mid-air and release 21 submunitions over a wide area.241 Other independent sources including Amnesty International have confirmed the incident and stated that Spain sold such munitions to Libya in 2007. Further investigation, including military and forensic pathologist expertise is, however, required to confirm or deny the usage of cluster munitions.

241 Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armored vehicles. Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Cluster Munitions Target Misrata,” 15 April 2011, available from

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188. Mortars: Based upon the facts available to it, the Commission believes that Government forces of Libya utilized mortars in their attacks on Misrata and Zintan. Mortars are weapons that kill or maim whoever is within the impact zone after they explode and they are unable to distinguish between combatants and civilians. A decision to deploy them in a location where a large number of civilians is likely to be present, is a decision that a commander should know will result in the death and/or and injuries of some of those civilians.

4. Conclusion

189. From the information available to it, the Commission is concerned that the Libyan authorities have not been undertaking appropriate and precautionary assessments which would, in the Commission’s view, militate against the use of weapons, such as mortars, in densely urban areas. The Commission is also concerned about reports of the use of weapons such as expanding bullets, cluster munitions or phosphorous weapons within highly populated areas. Further investigation, however, including forensic analysis would be needed to confirm the usage of these ammunitions.

Link to Report


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.