83. On 17 March 2011, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1973 which authorized “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” short of a “foreign occupying force.” On 19 March 2011 military forces from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States began attacks. On 31 March 2011, NATO assumed command of all offensive operations.
84. NATO aircraft flew a total of 17,939 armed sorties in Libya, employing precision guided munitions exclusively. NATO told the Commission that it had a standard of “zero expectation” of death or injury to civilians, and that no targets were struck if there was any reason to believe civilians would be injured or killed by a strike. NATO also told the Commission that the majority of munitions employed used delayed fusing to minimize collateral effects and that it also employed the minimum-sized munitions necessary to achieve the objective. NATO also provided warning to the population in the form of leaflets and radio broadcasts.
85. The Commission took account of claims by the Qadhafi Government in regard to civilian casualties, but subsequent testimony from former regime members and others, as well as its own interviews at the sites, confirmed to the Commission that the Government deliberately misstated the extent of civilian casualties. In one case, the Commission received a credible report of Libyan forces moving the bodies of children from a hospital morgue and bringing them to the site of a NATO airstrike.
86. Despite precautions taken by NATO as described above, the Commission notes incidents of civilian deaths and damage to civilian infrastructure. Amongst the 20 NATO airstrikes investigated, the Commission documented five airstrikes where a total of 60 civilians were killed and 55 injured. The Commission also investigated two NATO airstrikes which damaged civilian infrastructure and where no military target could be identified.
87. The single largest case of civilian casualties from a NATO airstrike in Libya took place in the town of Majer on 8 August 2011 where the Commission found NATO bombs killed 34 civilians and injured 38. After the initial airstrike killed 16, a group of rescuers arrived and were hit by a subsequent attack, killing 18.
88. Of the five targets where the Commission identified civilian casualties, four were termed command and control (C2) nodes or troop staging areas by NATO. The Commission saw no physical evidence of this during its site visits. Witnesses also denied that the sites had military utility. NATO told the Commission that “the regime was using civilian rather than military structures in support of military action”. Assuming this to be the case, the Commission remains concerned about the resulting civilian harm.
89. The Commission found NATO did not deliberately target civilians in Libya. For the few targets struck within population centres, NATO took extensive precautions to ensure civilians were not killed. However, there were a small number of strikes where NATO’s response to the Commission has not allowed it to draw conclusions on the rationale for, or the circumstances of
the attacks. The Commission is unable to conclude, barring additional explanation, whether these strikes are consistent with NATO’s objective to avoid civilian casualties entirely, or whether NATO took all necessary precautions to that effect. NATO’s characterization of four of five targets where the Commission found civilian casualties as “command and control nodes” or “troop staging areas” is not reflected in evidence at the scene and witness testimony. The Commission is unable to determine, for lack of sufficient information, whether these strikes were based on incorrect or out-dated intelligence and, therefore, whether they were consistent with NATO’s objective to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties entirely.