Tag Archives: Libya NATO

Why Killing Gaddafi was Bad for Africa

Gaddafi Dead Body

[S]ays Professor Jean-Emmanuel Pondi from the Cameroon Institute for International Relations and author of a new book on Libya, Western nations were above all vexed with Gaddafi because he refused to ‘play the diplomatic game’ and sometimes embarrassed them in public. What made matters worse was that they had no control over him because Libya had no debt – not at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or anywhere else. ‘Gaddafi was a problem for the world because he was economically independent and too outspoken,’ Pondi said during a seminar at the Institute for Security Studies on 21 November, 2013.  Pondi believes that even two years after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011, it is important for Africans to reflect on the events that led up to the Nato intervention in Libya and the killing of Gaddafi. ‘We can’t let a long-time leader in Africa be killed on the street like a dog and not reflect on it,’ he says. To him, there is no doubt that Gaddafi was a dangerous human being and that the Gaddafi regime was a political dictatorship. ‘He even called his own people “rats”.’

Yet, at the same time, Libyans benefited from free health care and free education; fuel was almost free as well and housing was heavily subsidised. The country had one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and was second only to Mauritius on the Human Development Index for Africa – all things that were left unsaid during the campaign to topple his regime.

Pondi says it is clear that the aim of the Nato intervention, sanctioned by United Nations Resolution 1973, was primarily to get rid of Gaddafi and not to save the lives of civilians. ‘As soon as Gaddafi was dead, that was the end of the Nato intervention, even though violence was still ongoing. Civilians were still being killed,’ he says. Today, Libya is increasingly chaotic and violent, with more than 1 700 militias operating in various parts of the country – some better armed than the police and the army. Last month Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped and held by gunmen for several hours before being released. Last week more than 40 people were killed and 400 wounded in clashes between rival militias…

In his 2011 book Au Coeur de la Libye de Khaddafi (In the heart of Gaddafi’s Libya), French specialist Patrick Haimzadeh explains the depth of the ‘mafia-like’ structure Gaddafi and his sons maintained and how it was kept going through pay-outs from Libya’s abundant oil revenues. Haimzadeh warns that any new regime that wants to replace Gaddafi will have to continue with such a system or face collapse. Would the Nato-led regime change be justified under such circumstances?

Clearly, the biggest loser after the death of Gaddafi is Africa, especially the region bordering Libya. The weapons that became freely available during the post-Gaddafi chaos have fallen into the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked groups that have been responsible for the occupation of northern Mali and for spectacular terror activities like the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria in January this year.

The African Union (AU) also lost a lot of credibility in some quarters because it was completely sidelined during the Libyan crisis. Pondi says it is unfair to say the AU had no plan to solve the stalemate between Gaddafi and the rebels controlling the eastern town of Benghazi at the time. ‘The road map was clear, firstly to put a ceasefire in place, secondly to organise a meeting between the protagonists and then to organise elections in Libya. The plan was there, but it wasn’t even given a minute at any of the meetings concerning Libya at the time.’…

Gaddafi’s demise has been tragic for Africa in other ways as well. Libya provided 15% of the budget of the AU (as did Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa). Now both Libya and Egypt’s contributions have fallen away and the AU has to rely on European Union funds for much of its programme budget. At times Gaddafi also paid the AU contributions of smaller African states that were in arrears, as he did during the 1999 AU summit in Sirte, his hometown. During his time, Libya also invested heavily in tourism across the continent. Many hotels in the Sahel, but also as far away as South Africa, were built with Libyan funds. The Libyan airline Afriqiyah Airways also operated in several African countries until the 2011 war.

Excerpts from Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Did Nato intervene in Libya just to get rid of Gaddafi? ISS Africa, Nov. 2013

NATO Claims Right to Impunity for Civilian Deaths in Libya

NATO’s seven-month air campaign in Libya, hailed by the alliance and many Libyans for blunting a lethal crackdown by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and helping to push him from power, came with an unrecognized toll: scores of civilian casualties the alliance has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.  By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.  “We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.

But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.  In all, at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO at these sites, available evidence suggests. While that total is not high compared with other conflicts in which Western powers have relied heavily on air power, and less than the exaggerated accounts circulated by the Qaddafi government, it is also not a complete accounting. Survivors and doctors working for the anti-Qaddafi interim authorities point to dozens more civilians wounded in these and other strikes, and they referred reporters to other sites where civilian casualties were suspected.  Two weeks after being provided a 27-page memorandum from The Times containing extensive details of nine separate attacks in which evidence indicated that allied planes had killed or wounded unintended victims, NATO modified its stance.  “From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We deeply regret any loss of life.”  She added that NATO was in regular contact with the new Libyan government and that “we stand ready to work with the Libyan authorities to do what they feel is right.”

NATO, however, deferred the responsibility of initiating any inquiry to Libya’s interim authorities, whose survival and climb to power were made possible largely by the airstrike campaign. So far, Libyan leaders have expressed no interest in examining NATO’s mistakes.  The failure to thoroughly assess the civilian toll reduces the chances that allied forces, which are relying ever more heavily on air power rather than risking ground troops in overseas conflicts, will examine their Libyan experience to minimize collateral deaths elsewhere. Allied commanders have been ordered to submit a lessons-learned report to NATO headquarters in February. NATO’s incuriosity about the many lethal accidents raises questions about how thorough that review will be.  NATO’s experience in Libya also reveals an attitude that initially prevailed in Afghanistan. There, NATO forces, led by the United States, tightened the rules of engagement for airstrikes and insisted on better targeting to reduce civilian deaths only after repeatedly ignoring or disputing accounts of airstrikes that left many civilians dead.  In Libya, NATO’s inattention to its unintended victims has also left many wounded civilians with little aid in the aftermath of the country’s still-chaotic change in leadership.  These victims include a boy blasted by debris in his face and right eye, a woman whose left leg was amputated, another whose foot and leg wounds left her disabled, a North Korean doctor whose left foot was crushed and his wife, who suffered a fractured skull.  The Times’s investigation included visits to more than 25 sites, including in Tripoli, Surman, Mizdah, Zlitan, Ga’a, Majer, Ajdabiya, Misurata, Surt, Brega and Sabratha and near Benghazi. More than 150 targets — bunkers, buildings or vehicles — were hit at these places.

NATO warplanes flew thousands of sorties that dropped 7,700 bombs or missiles; because The Times did not examine sites in several cities and towns where the air campaign was active, the casualty estimate could be low.  There are indications that the alliance took many steps to avoid harming civilians, and often did not damage civilian infrastructure useful to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Elements of two American-led air campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, appear to have been avoided, including attacks on electrical grids.  Such steps spared civilians certain hardships and risks that accompanied previous Western air-to-ground operations. NATO also said that allied forces did not use cluster munitions or ordnance containing depleted uranium, both of which pose health and environmental risks, in Libya at any time.  The alliance’s fixed-wing aircraft dropped only laser- or satellite-guided weapons, said Col. Gregory Julian, a NATO spokesman; no so-called dumb bombs were used.

While the overwhelming preponderance of strikes seemed to have hit their targets without killing noncombatants, many factors contributed to a run of fatal mistakes. These included a technically faulty bomb, poor or dated intelligence and the near absence of experienced military personnel on the ground who could help direct airstrikes.   The alliance’s apparent presumption that residences thought to harbor pro-Qaddafi forces were not occupied by civilians repeatedly proved mistaken, the evidence suggests, posing a reminder to advocates of air power that no war is cost- or error-free.  The investigation also found significant damage to civilian infrastructure from certain attacks for which a rationale was not evident or risks to civilians were clear. These included strikes on warehouses that current anti-Qaddafi guards said contained only food, or near businesses or homes that were destroyed, including an attack on a munitions bunker beside a neighborhood that caused a large secondary explosion, scattering warheads and toxic rocket fuel.

NATO has also not yet provided data to Libyans on the locations or types of unexploded ordnance from its strikes. At least two large weapons were present at sites visited by The Times. “This information is urgently needed,” said Dr. Ali Yahwya, chief surgeon at the Zlitan hospital.  Moreover, the scouring of one strike site found remnants of NATO munitions in a ruined building that an alliance spokesman explicitly said NATO did not attack.  That mistake — a pair of strikes — killed 12 anti-Qaddafi fighters and nearly killed a civilian ambulance crew aiding wounded men. It underscored NATO’s sometimes tenuous grasp of battle lines and raised questions about the forthrightness and accuracy of the alliance’s public-relations campaign.  The second strike pointed to a tactic that survivors at several sites recounted: warplanes restriking targets minutes after a first attack, a practice that imperiled, and sometimes killed, civilians rushing to the wounded.

Pressed about the dangers posed to noncombatants by such attacks, NATO said it would reconsider the tactic’s rationale in its internal campaign review. “That’s a valid point to take into consideration in future operations,” Colonel Julian said.  That statement is a shift in the alliance’s stance. NATO’s response to allegations of mistaken attacks had long been carefully worded denials and insistence that its operations were devised and supervised with exceptional care. Faced with credible allegations that it killed civilians, the alliance said it had neither the capacity for nor intention of investigating and often repeated that disputed strikes were sound.

The alliance maintained this position even after two independent Western organizations — Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or Civic — met privately with NATO officials and shared field research about mistakes, including, in some cases, victims’ names and the dates and locations where they died.  Organizations researching civilian deaths in Libya said that the alliance’s resistance to making itself accountable and acknowledging mistakes amounted to poor public policy. “It’s crystal clear that civilians died in NATO strikes,” said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But this whole campaign is shrouded by an atmosphere of impunity” and by NATO’s and the Libyan authorities’ mutually congratulatory statements.

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