‘NTC, NATO deadlier than Gaddafi’s fighters’


Fine words from NATO and Libyan new regime fighters about protecting civilians mean little to the furious residents of Sirte, whose homes are destroyed and relatives killed in the battle to capture Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown. “Why is NATO bombing us?” asked Faraj Mussa, whose blue minivan carried his family of eight, jammed in beside mattresses and suitcases as they fled the city this week.
“We were afraid to come out because they (Gaddafi loyalists) told us that the NTC would cut our throats. But we couldn’t stay because of the bombing – we had to take the risk,” he said.
Salem Hamees, leaving with his extended family, said: “Our house was hit by a bomb. It destroyed three rooms. We were lucky because we were in the other rooms. “We don’t know where it came from. The NATO bombing is scary. It’s all scary. There is no difference between their bombs. They are attacking indiscriminately,” he said. Sirte is one of the last two hold-outs of the fugitive dictator’s loyalists and the NTC fighters who have besieged it since mid-September blitz it most days with canon, tank and anti-aircraft fire.
NATO planes roar overhead, enforcing the alliance’s United Nations mandate to protect civilians by taking out Gaddafi’s remaining military hardware and thus providing the air cover that gives NTC fighters the upper hand in their siege.
But many among the thousands of Sirte residents who managed to escape said the biggest danger was not Gaddafi loyalists but the bombs that drop from the sky and the ones the NTC fighters lob into their Mediterranean port city. International aid workers also say that NATO bombing is sometimes doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do in the city that was home to around 100,000 people before the Libyan revolution kicked off in February. When asked if NATO was fulfilling its mission to protect civilians, one aid worker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly, replied: “It wouldn’t seem so.”
“There’s a lot of indiscriminate fire,” he said, adding that many of the Sirte residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained of the deadly results of NATO airstrikes. NATO regularly rejected accusations by the Gaddafi regime during the revolution of killing innocent civilians with its strikes. It did so again on Wednesday when asked by AFP if its bombs might have killed non-combatants in Sirte.
“When we absolutely need to intervene to protect the population, we do so with utmost care, targeting only military assets and using precision guided munitions to avoid civilian casualties,” a NATO official said. The official noted in an email that the alliance “has not conducted any strike in Sirte since last weekend and is siding with none of the forces on the ground.” The strikes may have stopped for the moment but until last weekend they were an almost daily event.
Last Saturday, for example, NATO warplanes hit “one command and control node, one infantry and anti-aircraft artillery staging area, two armed vehicles, four armoured infantry vehicles, one tank,” according to the official. Which is a lot of attacks on an area of just a few square kilometres bounded on one side by the Mediterranean sea and on the others by NTC positions. The new regime forces also insist they are doing their utmost to protect civilians. They say they have been holding off their final assault on the city in order to let as many residents as possible escape.
But they blast the city on most days. On Wednesday, fighters shelled Gaddafi’s forces for several hours using tanks, anti-tank rockets and multiple rocket launchers from positions 1.5 kilometres south of the showpiece Ouagadougou Conference Centre and the nearby Ibn Sina hospital.Several apartment blocks are situated next to the hospital. Last Saturday, when the Red Cross managed for the first time to take medical supplies into the city, several rockets landed within the hospital compound while they were there. Fighters firing a multiple rocket launcher and a tank at a suspected sniper position in the heart of the city on Wednesday said there was no risk of hitting civilians because there was none left. “They’re all gone,” said one fighter. But aid workers say there are still thousands of non-combatants there.