Civilian deaths in Libya were inevitable
The real question is 'have more lives been saved than lost?'
(Page 2 of 2)
It's true that many members of NATO are restless about the Libya air campaign, as are influential members of the US Congress. Some of the concerns hinge on whether NATO bombers are doing more harm than good, a worthy question to ask.Skip to next paragraph
The Arab League observer mission in Syria is likely to fail
Egypt's military rulers crack down on democracy groups
Iran's threats over Strait of Hormuz? Understandable, but not easy
Eastern Libya poll indicates political Islam will closely follow democracy
Iraq's Maliki threatens, Sunnis grumble, and Baghdad goes boom
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the fact that NATO acknowledged missing a target and causing civilian deaths yesterday, and may have killed civilians in what it insists was a Qaddafi command post today, changes nothing. The generals who planned and are running this operation knew that killing civilians was inevitable. They told the politicians who signed on for the mission this fact. And now the inevitable has come to pass.
While the shelf-life of the NATO action in Libya is limited, it's not going to be affected by something that would have been factored into planning and considerations from Day 1.
And there has been no evidence of great carelessness, or mounting civilian casualties from the NATO air campaign (11,000 sorties flown so far) that are within even an order of magnitude of the mortars and grad rockets Qaddafi's troops have rained down on towns like Misurata and Ajdabiyah. These so-called area weapons are imprecise and inappropriate for use in urban environments. Yet Qaddafi had directed hundreds of them toward residential neighborhoods before the NATO attacks on his forces began three months ago.
Since, his ability to use those weapons has been suppressed (he had four multiple grad rocket launchers arrayed around the southern edge of Benghazi as his forces began to assault the city in March; that assault was ended by British jets, which destroyed all the rockets). As this piece was being written, Ben Wedeman of CNN reported three grads landed in a residential area of Misurata, casualties unknown. (Editor's note: The original version of this blog incorrectly identified the type of British jet used.)
Would many more of these weapons be fired on rebel positions and residential neighborhoods alike if NATO air cover were withdrawn? That seems a reasonable assumption.
How much longer will the NATO mission last (assuming Qaddafi manages to hold out indefinitely, which seems unlikely given reports of $25 a gallon gasoline in Tripoli)? Not indefinitely, but no one is going to pull the plug soon.
In the US, while Congress could theoretically de-fund the Libya mission, it isn't likely to. As angry as some members are that Obama has skirted the War Powers Act by asserting, oddly, that the US is not engaged in "hostilities" in Libya, they're also well aware that American prestige (and French, British and others) has been put on the line, and that pulling the plug unilaterally would do more harm than good. They'll probably beat Obama up over the issue, but not press for a vote on the matter.
The situation is similar in other world capitals. There's public war-weariness and concerns about domestic finances. But that restlessness hasn't yet coalesced into the sort of force that could end what is, compared with the Afghanistan and Iraq war money pits, still a limited action with a reasonable chance of success.