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April 8th, 2011
03:30 PM ET

NATO refuses to apologize for Libyan 'friendly fire' attack

CNN Wire Staff

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) - NATO refused to apologize Friday for a deadly airstrike it conceded may have mistakenly killed people it has pledged to protect, angering Libyan opposition leaders amid an increasingly frustrating campaign to oust Moammar Gadhafi.

Gadhafi's forces attacked Ajdabiya on Friday with a barrage of artillery fire at the city's western gates. Ajdabiya has changed hands several times already, and rebels were forced to flee again in a war that is now viewed in some circles as unwinnable for the opposition, even with NATO air support.

NATO, meanwhile, was on the defensive Friday after reports of casualties apparently caused by the airstrike. British Royal Navy Rear Adm. Russell Harding said NATO forces may have hit rebel tanks near the eastern oil town of al-Brega on Thursday.

Opposition members say five people were killed when missiles struck a rebel formation on the eastern Libyan battlefront.

It was the second time NATO has been blamed for civilian deaths - last week, opposition leaders said NATO airstrikes killed 13 civilians in the al-Brega area. NATO is investigating that strike as well.

"I'm not apologizing," Harding, the deputy commander of the NATO operation, said of the latest incident. "The situation on the ground is fluid, and we had no information the opposition forces were using tanks."

Harding said NATO had only recently learned that opposition forces had tanks. In the past, it was Gadhafi's tanks that had taken aim at civilians, he said.

"There's a lot of vehicles going back and forth," he said. "It is very difficult to distinguish who is operating the vehicles."

The airstrikes also injured 14 people, and an additional six are missing, said Gen. Abdul Fattah Yunis, a commander of the rebel forces.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the incident unfortunate.

"I strongly regret the loss of life," he said.

"We are conducting operations in Libya in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution with the aim to protect civilians," he said. "This is also the reason why our aircraft target military equipment that could be used to attack civilians, but I can assure you that we do our utmost to avoid civilian casualties."

Sorrow quickly turned to anger at a hospital where the wounded were taken, complicating matters for opposition fighters, already demoralized by the superior firepower of the Libyan army.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Aksil

    Should NATO ask all the obvious questions to the Relbels' reps about what type of weaponery they dispose of.
    Hum! Makes me think whether GPS devices on NATO's planes are set wrong (FYI, Kadhafi's headquarters are in Tripoli, which is on the western side of Libya, duh!)

    April 8, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    It sounds like the opposition in Libya should be more forthcoming to NATO in what they have (tanks, etc) and where they are so that tragic mistakes like this do not repeat themselves. The opposition needs to also remember that they were the ones who asked for help for the no-fly zone and have little room to complain about the execution of it. Since the opposition seems to be running away every chance they get, perhaps NATO should reconsider whether we even need to help them anymore and let Libya play out based on Libyan effort. I know that sounds harsh but it is their war and they should fight it themselves and not look to the US and NATO to do it for them.

    April 8, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  3. Ann Bruce Pineda

    I´ve seen opposition soldiers in Libya firing in the air. Am I right to say that those bullets could hit the NATO planes or come down and hit civilians?

    April 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm |