Did NATO downplay civilian deaths in Libya?

Human Rights Watch is claiming 72 civilians died, including 44 women and children, in NATO air strikes last year. NATO says they "deeply regret" civilian casualties but that they took extraordinary care in limiting "collateral damage."


In a report based on investigations at bombing sites during and after the conflict, the New York-based HRW said NATO strikes killed 20 women and 24 children. It called on the alliance to compensate civilian victims and investigate attacks that may have been unlawful.

"Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking," Fred Abrahams, special adviser at HRW, said in a statement.

The report claims to be the most extensive investigation to date of civilian casualties from NATO's air campaign and presents a higher death toll estimate than a March paper by Amnesty International which documented 55 civilian deaths, including 16 children and 14 women.

NATO considers its Libya operation highly successful, illustrating the allies' ability to work well together in a limited campaign. NATO carried out some 26,000 sorties including some 9,600 strike missions and destroyed about 5,900 targets before operations ended on October 31.

The alliance said the campaign had been conducted with "unprecedented care and precision and to a standard exceeding that required by international humanitarian law".

Ninety six hundred strike missions and only 72 civilian deaths? That strikes me as a remarkable record - especially since Gaddafi's troops were hiding their armor in cities and towns. 

But the discrepancy between AI and HRW numbers calls into question the methodology used by both groups. How is it determined that a civilian died as a result of a NATO strike and not the result of action taken by Gaddafi loyalists? Did the investigators rely on eyewitness testimony only?

While there is no doubt some civilians were killed, the great care taken by NATO in planning and executing its operations needs to be acknowledged by the world community.


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