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Saturday, June 18, 2011

NATO planes accidentally hit Libya rebels

NATO aircraft accidentally hit a column of Libyan rebel forces in the area of Brega on June 16, the alliance said Saturday.

The alliance said in a statement that after looking into reports that an airstrike hit opposition forces in the Brega region on Thursday, “NATO can now confirm that the vehicles hit were part of an opposition patrol.”

“This incident occurred in an area of conflict between (Muammar) Qaddafi forces and opposition forces,” the statement added.

“We regret any possible loss of life or injuries caused by this unfortunate incident,” NATO said.

The statement said a column of military vehicles including tanks was observed in an area where Colonel Qaddafi forces had recently been operating.

“In a particularly complex and fluid battle scenario, it was assessed these vehicles were a threat to civilians and they were subsequently engaged by NATO aircraft.”

NATO said it strove at all times to avoid civilian casualties.

Earlier Saturday, the alliance said that claims by Colonel Qaddafi’s regime that the alliance was perpetrating war crimes in Libya were “outrageous.”

Responding to accusations of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” by Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi in Tripoli, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in a statement that “the claims made by Qaddafi and members of his regime are outrageous.”

“It is Qaddafi and his regime that have been systematically and brutally attacking the Libyan people,” she said.

Speaking at a Tripoli news conference, Mr. Mahmudi said his accusations were based on NATO “directly targeting civilian sites” with air raids over the past three days.

“We are conducting operations with utmost care and precision to avoid civilian casualties,” Ms. Lungescu said. “Civilian casualties figures mentioned by the Libyan regime are pure propaganda.”

The Libyan prime minister also called for “an urgent meeting” of the United Nations to examine “crimes committed by NATO against Libyan civilians,” saying the alliance had hit targets including a university and a hotel in Tripoli on Friday.

In its daily operational update, NATO listed its Friday hits in Tripoli as two military vehicle storage facilities.

In the vicinity of Tripoli, the alliance hit an armored vehicle storage and maintenance facility, three surface-to-air missile loaders and three self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, it said.

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