Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Libya : The homes of members of Gaddafi's government are not legitimate military targets or command and control centres

No amount of calling the houses of members of Gaddafi’s government and his advisers ‘Command and control centers’ will change the fact that in bombing them NATO know they’re likely to kill members of their families, like the airstrike that killed not only Gaddafi’s youngest son, but his three young children at the start of May ; and the more recent strike that missed one of Gaddafi’s advisers, but killed members of his family, including children – again in the family’s home (1) - (2). Those ordering attacks on the homes of members of Gaddafi’s government know they are likely to kill civilians.

If our enemies were attacking the homes of British officers or generals or members of government and killing members of their family, giving the justification that these people were part of the British command structure attacking Libya and killing civilians, would anyone take their claims that the attacks were legitimate attacks on military targets? Not for a second.

The homes and families of members of Gaddafi’s government are not the only people being killed by NATO air and missile strikes either – Libyan civilians with no connection to Gaddafi’s government or armed forces are being killed too (3).

The argument that the deaths are the fault of Gaddafi and members of his government for not sending their families somwhere safe are also empty. There is nowhere else safe for their families to go and no safe way to get there even if there was. There is fighting in the civil war and NATO air strikes across Libya. If they try to leave by plane they are likely to be shot down on suspicion that members of the regime are aboard. If they try and travel to other parts of Libya by car where will they go that's safe? - and how will they get there safely when NATO jets have even bombed convoys of rebel pick up trucks by mistake (and frequently civilians by mistake in Afghanistan)?

Strikes on ‘command and control centers’ defined as anyone involved in Gaddafi’s government or military, in the field or in their homes, should end. Rocket launchers, artillery and tanks are indisputably military targets. Houses are not. There has been a pattern in past US and NATO air campaigns from the 1991 Iraq war to Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 and Afghanistan today to redefine almost everything as a military target on spurious grounds. If this is not ended more civilians will die and no amount of deep regret expressed after each set of deaths will hide the fact that those ordering them knew the orders they had given were likely to result in deaths of civilians who would be alive if they had done the right thing and only targeted military targets. The mistaken identification of civilian targets as military is enough of a problem already – adding in civilian or grey area targets is too much.

Air strikes are almost never decisive in wars without ground forces stronger than those of the enemy to support them. Generals banned from using ground forces, as in Libya, are often tempted to forget this and think that by expanding the types of targets hit they can make air and missile strikes decisive. They can’t.

Even if civilian casualties are accidental, as in one Tripoli missile strike, they remain a reason to give a ceasefire and elections a chance – and to only target strictly military targets like tanks and artillery if the war continues (4).

(1) = Channel 4 news (UK)  01 May 2011 ‘Gaddafi’s youngest son killed in NATO airstrike’

(2) = Reuters 20 Jun 2011 ‘Fresh Libya civilian deaths pile pressure on NATO’,

(3) = AFP 22 Jun 2011 ‘NATO backtracks on denials over killing of Libyan civilians’,

(4) = Sky News 20 Jun 2011 ‘Nato Admits Missile Killed Tripoli Civilians’,

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