Investigation uncovers unacknowledged civilian casualties from NATO’s Libyan strikes

The Takeaway

The seven-month NATO bombing campaign of Libya, ultimately leading to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, was designed, officials said, to protect civilians.

That was its specific United Nations charge, in fact.

But a New York Times investigation published over the weekend found that NATO bombs killed between 40 and 70 Libyan civilians, including at least 29 women and children.

C.J. Chivers, war correspondent for The New York Times, said that his investigation discovered that, no matter how powerful and precise your weapons are, “war is still war.”

“Some weapons are not going to go where you want them to, and some are going to go exactly where you think you wanted them to go, but it turns out it was the wrong place,” Chivers said.

The Times visited 25 different sites to document damage and casualties. Records, however, were few and far between and hard to find.

“What you need to do is go to each site, spend a considerable amount of time there, look for survivors, and witnesses, pull ordinance remnants out of the debris and almost piece it together like paleontology,” Chivers said.

Chivers said perhaps one of the most influential factors in leading to civilian casualties was the lack of a presence on the ground. In other words, without soldiers or special forces on the ground examining the targets, it was possible to draw erroneous conclusions about what the target was — or how safe it was to bomb.

Though Chivers pointed out, the number of casualties was relatively low.

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