By Paul Rogers, Geopolitical Monitor, Nov 4, 2011 —
OpenDemocracy.net, Nov 3, 2011
The western military alliance sees the result of the anti-Gaddafi war as a vindication of its strategy. But the true accounting of Nato’s campaign – including on the ledger of arms companies – tells a different story.
Nato’s eight-month military operation in Libya, mandated by the United Nations, ended on 31 October 2011. The alliance’s secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a “declare victory and leave” mode, pronounced the mission a conspicuous success. Nato would continue to help Libya reform its defence and security sectors, he said, but he expected the UN to lead in the area of international assistance.
The Nato attitude at the war’s conclusion is optimistic, even near-euphoric – a marked contrast to the uncertainties and divisions even of three months earlier. In private, Nato’s leadership may have concerns over parts of the mission. But its official line is that Nato’s Libya operation is a triumph of the sustained use of air-power to achieve a laudable political aim: termination of a brutal regime. The marked contrast to the morass of the alliance’s effort in Afghanistan makes this outcome even more satisfying.
Nato conducted 26,320 sorties, of which 9,658 were strike-sorties, and attacked more than 5,000 targets: a calculation that includes reconnaissance, surveillance, tanker-refuelling and numerous other forms of support. Britain’s defence ministry provides detailed data of its own forces’ actions to the national media; it reports 3,000 sorties, including 2,100 strike-sorties, attacking about 640 targets.
A striking anomaly in both the Nato and the British accounting is the absence of any casualty figures. It is as though in more than 9,000 attacks, no one died.
There are three explanations:
* The air-strikes were so phenomenally effective that not a single Libyan was killed (pure fiction)
* The casualties could not be assessed (implausible, given that modern bomb-damage assessment uses multiple and precise surveillance techniques to see if targets are destroyed or if they have to be hit again)
* The casualties were known, but it was politically inappropriate to release figures (consistent with previous coalition actions, not least in Iraq, where the mantra was “we don’t do body counts”).
A bitter legacy
It might be argued that if the number of civilians killed was small, it doesn’t “really” matter. And if Libyan soldiers were being zapped – well, this is war and these things happen; casualty-counting isn’t relevant.
Among the many problems with both the policy of war and the attitude towards its victims is the legacy they leave. Every Libyan soldier killed was a person with an extended family and numerous friends, and all those who died in a Nato raid was by definition killed by foreigners. Whatever the undoubted wrongs of the Gaddafi regime, the acute sense of those close to the people who lost their lives is that a foreign intervention was responsible. There seems to be no sense whatsoever within Nato of this aspect or of its long-term implications (see "Every casualty: the human face of war", 15 September 2011).
Moreover, Nato seems to have little awareness of or concern with the security problems the joint Nato/rebel action leaves in its wake. There are already numerous reports of human-rights abuses by rebel elements, including major reprisals against the previously pro-Gaddafi town of Tawargha; as a result, the town of 30,000 people has been abandoned. (see “Libya militia ‘terrorises’ pro-Gaddafi town of Tawargha”, BBC News, 31 October 2011).
The uncertainties are compounded by the refusal of scores of rebel militias to disarm; in fact, many are taking over districts and, on occasions, competing violently for control (see David D Kirkpatrick, “In Libya, Fighting May Outlast the Revolution”, New York Times, 2 November 2011). . . .