NATO blames 'fluid' ground situation for airstrikes hitting Libyan rebels

NATO airstrikes in Libya may have killed rebel forces, but commanders have refused to apologize despite increasingly strained relations between the rebels and the military alliance.

Youssef Boudlal/Reuters
Libyan rebels at Ajdabiyah western gate travel to the front line on Friday, April 8.

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After two NATO airstrikes may have caused the death of Libyan opposition forces, NATO commanders have refused to issue an apology, stating that it was a “very fluid” situation when their forces carried out the attack.

The refusal to admit wrongdoing comes at a time when rebel forces are accusing NATO of not doing enough to support their operations, but also as the United Nations has managed to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to besieged rebels.

The airstrike in question hit several rebel tanks. NATO Rear Adm. Russell Harding, the deputy commander of operations in Libya, said that until the time of the bombings international forces had not seen rebels operating tanks. Rebel commander Gen. Abdelfatah Yunis, however, contests that his forces had told NATO they were moving tanks from Benghazi to Brega. He added that the rebels have 400 tanks and plan to get more, reports Al Jazeera.

While admitting rebel forces had been killed, Rear Admiral Harding defended the strike saying, “Our role is to protect civilians. Tanks have been used in the past to directly target civilians.” The BBC reports that though there is much anger among rebels over the strike, rebel leaders have said the attack will not damage their relations with NATO.

Still, antigovernment forces have complained that NATO forces are slow to respond to their requests for air support and say there is limited cooperation. The Wall Street Journal reports that allied forces have not had enough ground-attack fighter jets since the US withdrew from front-line military activity. Additionally, NATO commanders say that pro-Qaddafi forces have started using guerrilla tactics, making them more difficult to target.

Among US and European leaders, concerns are mounting that the situation in Libya is headed toward a stalemate, CNN reported. Speaking in Washington, US Gen. Carter Ham, the head of US Africa Command, said that there was a “low likelihood” of rebels fighting their way to Tripoli.

Western nations who’ve intervened in Libya have increasingly begun to look for a diplomatic solution. On Friday, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told reporters that there is “no purely military solution” for Libya.

“It is important to find a political solution .... There is no stalemate, just on the contrary, there is a clear drive from the international community to urgently find a political solution to this conflict,” she said in an article by Xinhua.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and the World Food Program managed to deliver food to the besieged, rebel-held town of Misratah in western Libya. WFP executive director Josette Sheeran called the delivery “a breakthrough for the UN humanitarian operation in Libya.” The city has seen some of the hardest fighting during the course of the Libyan war.

“They bombarded food stores, supermarkets, water supplies and the harbor,” said Omar Fathi bin Shatwan in an article by The Los Angles Times. Mr. Shatwan is currently in Malta, but had been in Misratah until escaping several days ago. “It has been like this for so long that it has become natural for people. It is scary, but the fear becomes normal after a while.”

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