NATO: All targets struck in Libya were military

March 5, 2012 - 3:56 PM
Belgium NATO

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses the media on his monthly media conference in Brussels, Monday, March 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS (AP) — All targets that NATO hit during the bombing of Libya were legitimate military sites, the alliance said Monday, despite the findings of a U.N. expert panel that said 60 civilians were killed and 55 wounded in the airstrikes it investigated.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the finding by the U.N.-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Libya that the alliance had "conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties."

Friday's report in Geneva said NATO did not deliberately target civilians but that in five cases where the alliance claimed to have struck command-and-control centers or staging areas, the experts could identify no military targets. The panel said it couldn't reach a conclusion on those issues, citing lack of evidence and urged further investigation.

NATO warplanes flew 18,000 sorties during the 7-month campaign, which ended in October.

Fogh Rasmussen said NATO had looked into all allegations of harm to civilians, including assessments of all NATO records of target selection and other data gathered after the strike.

"This review process has confirmed that the targets we struck were legitimate military targets ... and that great care was taken in each case to minimize risk to civilians," he told reporters. "No target was approved or attacked if we had any evidence or reason to believe that civilians were at risk. Hundreds of possible targets were passed up or aborted at the last minute to avoid any risk to civilians."

In November, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal, said his office would examine allegations of crimes committed by all sides in last year's fighting, including NATO.

The prosecutor's statement does not necessarily mean a formal investigation will be opened. Following the release of the U.N. Commission's findings, Moreno-Ocampo may decide there is no need for further investigation or ask judges for authorization to open a formal probe.

Some human rights advocates and attorneys for the victims have criticized NATO for not acknowledging the bombing caused civilian casualties despite the precautions taken, and for refusing to consider compensation.