Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

LC427

Incident date

July 18, 2021

Location

مصرف الوحدة في منطقة الليثي, Vicinity of Al Wahda Bank, Al Laithi neighbourhood, Benghazi, Libya

Geolocation

32.088701, 20.134394 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Exact location (via Airwars) level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Exact location (via Airwars)

Airwars assessment

The actor Haythem al-Debrash was killed in Benghazi and his brother Muftah was among five other civilians injured by an RPG round, fired by a militiaman said to have been celebrating the wedding nearby of a comrade.

Footage published by local media and dated July 18th showed a militiaman firing an RPG into the air alongside celebratory small arms fire. According to multiple reports, the RPG round then landed outside the al Wahda Bank on al Nahr Road, in al Laithi neighbourhood, killing Mr Debrash.

Benghazi 24 named a second casualty as Muftah al-Darbash, brother of the deceased, who it said had a limb amputated following the event. The Libya Observer reported five people injured in the event.

Libya Witness later reported that two unidentified men were arrested in connection with the incident, while 218 TV News said the public prosecutor’s office had opened a case, noting: “The perpetrator of the crime was arrested, and the Public Prosecution Office began interrogating him and eventually up accusing him of murder. It ordered his pretrial detention pending the case, while investigations into the incident are still ongoing in other aspects, which are being followed up by the Office of the Public Prosecutor.”

The incident occured during the day.

The victims were named as:

Family members (2)

  • Haythem al-Debrash Adult male killed
  • Muftah al-Debrash Adult male injured

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (17) [ collapse]

  • 'The death of the actor Haitham Al-Darbash after a shell fell on Al-Wahda Bank in Benghazi.'
  • The actor Haitham Al-Darbash, killed on July 18th in a random militia act (via Benghazi 24)
  • 'A continuation of the chaos and the rule of the militias... dead and wounded as a result of the fall of an RPG shell on a bank queue in the city of #Benghazi.'
  • Haythem Debrash, killed by an RPG round in Benghazi on July 18th 2021 (via Libya Observer)
  • Haitham al-Derbash (via Downtown Benghazi)
  • Images from the scene of a random RPG strike in Benghazi which killed one civilian and injured five (via Only Bengazi)
  • Images from the scene of a random RPG strike in Benghazi which killed one civilian and injured five (via Only Bengazi)
  • Images from the scene of a random RPG strike in Benghazi which killed one civilian and injured five (via Only Bengazi)
  • Images from the scene of a random RPG strike in Benghazi which killed one civilian and injured five (via Only Bengazi)
  • 'Today, Sunday, July 18, we monitored the killing of the artist Haitham Derbash and the injury of five others as a result of a shell falling in the Al-Laithi neighborhood of Benghazi. We call on the authorities to open an investigation into the incident and to hold the perpetrators accountable. We also call on the Ministry of the Interior to work to limit the phenomenon of the proliferation of weapons and prevent their use within cities.'
  • 'The artist, Haitham Darbash, died as a result of injuries he sustained as a result of a bombardment near Al Wahda Bank in the Laithi area, in the city of #Benghazi, while a local source told "Bawabat Al-Wasat" on Sunday that "the artist Haitham Derbash transferred his body to the hospital," noting that the artist's brother was wounded and taken to 1200 Hospital in Benghazi.'
  • Haitham al Derbash (via @alwasatnewsly)
  • Haitham Derbash (via 218 TV News)
  • Civilian Muftah Derbash, injured in a random RPG event in Benghazi on July 18th 2021 (via Bengazi 24)

Geolocation notes (3) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the vicinity of Al Wahda bank (مصرف الوحدة) in the Al Laithi neighbourhood (منطقة الليثي) of Benghazi (بنغازي). Analyzing audio-visual material from sources we have narrowed down the location to these exact coordinates: 32.088701, 20.134394.

  • Reports of the incident mention the vicinity of Al Wahda bank (مصرف الوحدة) in the Al Laithi neighbourhood (منطقة الليثي) of Benghazi (بنغازي). Analyzing audio-visual material from sources we have narrowed down the location to exact coordinates.

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

  • Tagged audio-visual material from sources.

    Imagery:
    February Channel

  • Tagged audio-visual material from sources.

    Imagery:
    Al Tanasuh Channel

Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC426

Incident date

July 9, 2021

Location

سيدي حسين, Sid Hussein, Benghazi, Libya

Geolocation

32.112797, 20.070677 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

In the first reported civilian harm event involving explosive weapons use in Libya since March, several outlets said that four civilians had been injured by shelling from an unknown party on the Sidi Hussein neighbourhood of Benghazi. The injured were taken for treatment at the al-Jalaa Hospital.

The hospital released the following statement: “Doctors of Al-Jalaa Hospital, Benghazi, received four injured as a result of the shelling that occurred in the Sidi Hussein area, according to the injured. Three of them received first aid and left the hospital, while the other was accommodated in one of the departments.”

Photographs from the scene showed several cars damaged by the shell. It was unclear which party or faction might have conducted what appeared to be a random attack. Libya Alahrar noted concerns about “armed militia and random shooting” in the city.

The incident occured in the evening.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    4
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (8) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • Vehicles damaged by a shell from an unknown party, Benghazi, July 9th 2021 (via Bengazi24)
  • Vehicles damaged by a shell from an unknown party, Benghazi, July 9th 2021 (via Bengazi24)
  • Vehicles damaged by a shell from an unknown party, Benghazi, July 9th 2021 (via Bengazi24)
  • Vehicles damaged by a shell from an unknown party, Benghazi, July 9th 2021 (via Bengazi24)

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the neighbourhood of Sidi Hussein (سيدي حسين), for which the generic coordinates are: 32.112797, 20.070677. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • Reports of the incident mention the neighbourhood of Sidi Hussein (سيدي حسين).

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    4
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (8) [ collapse]

Published

July 1, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Coalition of civil society organisations issues joint recommendations to Defence Minister, for improvements to Dutch policy on transparency and civilian harm mitigation

Airwars and our Dutch partners, who are involved in ongoing discussions with the Dutch military on practicable improvements in the protection of civilians, have published a Joint Statement outlining the progress so far, and our collective hopes and expectations moving forward.

In October 2019, it was revealed that the Dutch military had been responsible for a 2015 airstrike in Iraq on an ISIS IED factory, leading to the deaths of at least 70 civilians and hundreds more being injured. The Government had then withheld that fact from the public for more than four years.

As PAX and Airwars later noted in our joint report, Seeing Through The Rubble,  estimates are that the secondary explosions triggered by the Dutch airstrike damaged between 400 and 500 buildings in the area, including many shops, homes and schools. Sources also reported that the airstrike caused major damage to crucial infrastructure, including roads and water pipelines. Six different sources, including Hawijah’s mayor, were interviewed for the report on the recent state of the city after the devastating Dutch airstrike.

As a result of the national scandal and numerous Parliamentary debates on the issue, in June 2020 the Dutch Minister of Defence, Ank Bijleveld, promised to Parliament improvements towards transparency and accountability regarding civilian harm as a result of Dutch military actions. Coupled with other steps taken in the months after the Hawijah scandal, the Netherlands appeared to be shedding its reputation as one of the least transparent members of the international Coalition fighting so-called Islamic State.

One measure adopted by Defensie had recently been proposed by Airwars, Amnesty Netherlands, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Open State Foundation, PAX and the Utrecht University Intimacies of Remote Warfare Program. This called for a “Roadmap for the Ministry of Defence to review the way in which the Netherlands deals with, reports on, evaluates and accounts for civilian harm as a consequence of Dutch military efforts”.

The starting session of the Roadmap Process took place virtually on November 12th 2020, attended by senior Dutch defence officials, including the Deputy Chief of Defence Lt General Onno. In 2021, a consortium of civil society organisations then participated in four interactive sessions with the MoD. The key objective of these sessions was to share joint perspectives and expertise on how to enhance military transparency and accountability, while also creating conditions for a stronger integration of civilian harm evaluation and mitigation approaches into Dutch military deployments.

MoD staff have committed to using the outcomes of these sessions to inform policy recommendations to be presented to the Minister of Defence. The recommendations centred around improving transparency, as well as aiming to improve broader Dutch policy and practice in order to achieve better protection of civilians in future military deployments generally.

The civil society consortium has welcomed the open manner in which Defensie has engaged during the “Roadmap“ process, and has now issued a joint statement laying out our own thoughts on the way forward for the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The statement includes recommendations to the Minister of Defence for improvements to Dutch policy on transparency and civilian harm mitigation when engaging in military missions.

Read the statement in full here

Published

June 2, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Conservative public tallies of civilians killed by US during 2020 are almost five times higher than DoD admits

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions around the world has declared more than 100 recent casualties. Researchers and human rights groups, including Airwars, Amnesty International and UN monitors in Afghanistan, place the actual toll significantly higher.

For 2020 alone, the Department of Defence said that its forces had killed 23 civilians and injured a further 10 in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. An additional 63 historical deaths and 22 injuries were reported for the years 2017-2019, mostly in Syria and Yemen.

By contrast, the minimum public estimate of civilian deaths caused by US forces during 2020 across five conflict nations was 102 fatalities – almost five times higher than DoD admits.

Casualties from US actions in Afghanistan in particular appear to have been officially undercounted. While the Pentagon reports only 20 deaths and 5 injuries from its own actions last year, UNAMA – the respected UN agency in Afghanistan – says that international forces killed at least 89 civilians and injured a further 31. United States personnel made up the great majority of those foreign forces.

For Somalia, DoD declares only one civilian death from US actions last year – while Airwars and others suggest a minimum civilian toll of seven killed.

And for Iraq and Syria, while US forces declare only one death, local reporting indicates at least six civilians killed by US actions.

Only for Yemen is there agreement, with monitoring organisations and the DoD both indicating that there were no likely civilian deaths caused by US actions during the year.

Major decline in US actions

The 21-page Pentagon document, quietly released May 28th and entitled ‘Annual Report on Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations in 2020,’ has been a requirement of US law since 2018.

The latest report captures the very significant fall in tempo of US military actions during the latter years of Donald Trump’s presidency. According to Airwars estimates, there were around 1,000 US strikes across four conflict countries during 2020 – down from approximately 3,500 strikes the previous year and a peak of 13,000 such US actions during 2016. Declared civilian deaths fell from 132 to 23 from 2019 to 2020.

The majority of civilian deaths declared by the Pentagon during 2020 were in Afghanistan – despite a major ceasefire between US forces and the Taliban for much of the year. According to the new DoD report, 20 civilians were killed and five injured in seven US actions, primarily airstrikes.

The seven civilian casualty events conceded in Afghanistan by the Pentagon for 2020

However the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) which has been recording extensive data on civilian harm from all parties to the fighting since 2009, placed the toll far higher. According to its own annual report for 2020 published earlier this year, “UNAMA attributed 120 civilian casualties (89 killed and 31 injured) to international military forces”.

While these casualties represented just one per cent of the overall reported civilian toll in Afghanistan for the year – with most civilians killed by the Taliban and Afghan forces – of concern was DoD’s major undercounting of its own impact on civilians – with UNAMA logging four and a half times more deaths primarily from US actions than those officially conceded by the Pentagon.

Reported civilian casualties from US actions against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria have remained low since the terror group’s defeat as a territorial entity in mid 2019. According to the Pentagon, just one civilian was killed by an action in Iraq, after US forces targeted Iranian linked militias at Karbala airport on March 13th 2020. Twenty three year old security guard Karrar Sabbar was killed in that US attack. However the additional reported deaths of two civilian policemen in the attack are not acknowledged by the US.

In Syria, Airwars estimates three to six likely civilian deaths from US actions during 2020, mainly during counterterrorism raids against ISIS remnants. None of these were conceded either.

In Somalia, between 7 and 13 civilians were likely killed by US actions during the year, according to Airwars monitoring of local communities. The US military itself concedes five injuries and one death, in two events in early 2020 near Jilib.

Only for Yemen did human rights organisations and DoD appear to agree, with both reporting no likely civilian deaths from US actions during the year.

US forces in Somalia killed one civilian and injured five others during 2020, according to official estimates

Public transparency

Despite continuing disparities between public and military estimates of civilian harm, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress still represents a significant transparency breakthrough. Close ally France, for example, has refused to declare a single civilian fatality from almost seven years of air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria – and recently lashed out at the United Nations after a French airstrike struck a wedding party in Mali.

Later this year the Pentagon will also issue a major overhaul of its civilian casualty mitigation policies, which it has been reviewing in consultation with human rights organisations for several years. On May 25th, new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr Colin Kahl confirmed in writing to NGOs that the new policy – known as a Department of Defense Instruction, or DoD-I – would be published by the Biden administration.

“We welcome the Pentagon’s publication to Congress of its latest annual civilian harm report, as well as confirmation that the DOD-I on civilian casualty mitigation will be published by the new administration,” noted Airwars director Chris Woods. “We remain concerned however that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common. Civilians surely deserve better.”

▲ Aftermath of a deadly US airstrike on Karbala Airport on March 13th, 2020 which the Pentagon admits killed a civilian.

Published

May 25, 2021

The research, based on a decade of work by Action on Armed Violence, strengthens calls for restrictions on explosive weapons

Nine out of ten people killed and injured by explosive weapons in cities are civilians, a new report has found, in stark findings likely to increase pressure on governments to curb the use of explosive weapons in urban areas.

In total the Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) report, which surveyed explosive violence across the globe over a ten-year period, found that 91 percent of those killed and injured when explosive weapons were used in cities were civilians. In other, less densely populated areas, the rate fell to 25 percent.

“The evidence is absolutely clear and unequivocal,” Iain Overton, the executive director of AOAV, said. “When explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, civilians will be harmed. (That is) as true as it is today in Gaza as it was a decade ago in Iraq and beyond.”

The report tracked 238,892 civilians killed and injured by explosive weapons over the past decade in 123 countries and territories, using open-source monitoring of English-language media.

It found that improvised explosive devices were responsible for more than half of all civilian casualties, while airstrikes and other aerial assaults were responsible for 23 percent and ground-launched explosive weapons 21 percent.

 

The most deadly single incident occurred in Somalia in October 2017, when more than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in the capital Mogadishu. The Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab was believed to be behind those explosions.

The most deadly air strike came in 2016 when the Saudi Arabian-led coalition struck a funeral procession in Yemen, killing nearly 140 people and wounding a further 600.

Reducing civilian harm

Overton argued the report would strengthen efforts to restrict the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Ireland has spearheaded efforts in recent years for action on EWIPA, releasing a draft document earlier this year. It stresses that even when militaries try to limit the impact of their strikes in urban areas, the closely populated nature of cities makes civilian harm inevitable.

Belgium last month became the first country to adopt a resolution against the use of EWIPA after a vote by the federal parliament’s National Defense Commission.

In October Airwars, together with Dutch organisation PAX, released a joint report examining the dire and long-lasting effects of explosive weapons on civilian populations in urban areas in recent international military campaigns in Mosul, Raqqa and Hawijah. The report was launched in a virtual event by Ambassador Michael Gaffey of Ireland.

Beyond the civilians directly harmed, military campaigns can leave the infrastructure of cities devastated for years.

 

During the 2016-17 campaign by the US-led coalition to remove the so-called Islamic State from Mosul an estimated 9,000 civilians were killed, while up to 80 percent of buildings in the centre of the city were destroyed.

In June 2019, the UN International Organisation for Migration reported that entire neighbourhoods of Mosul had yet to be rebuilt and that a lack of essential services and poor sanitation were still threatening public health. Additionally, unexploded bombs, missiles, rockets and shells prevented civilians from returning to the city.

“The negotiation of the political declaration (on EWIPA) is an opportunity to set new standards against the use of heavy explosive weapons in towns and cities, to better protect civilians and vital civilian infrastructure located in cities,” said Laura Boillot, Coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

The AOAV report also found a decrease in civilian harm in 2020, a trend also noted by Airwars’s recent annual report. Factors that explain this include significant breakthroughs in conflicts in Libya and Syria, as well as the knock-on implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

▲ Raqqa has been described by the United Nations as the most destroyed city in Syria (Image courtesy of Amnesty International)

Incident Code

LC425

Incident date

March 19, 2021

Location

زمزم, Zamzam, Benghazi, Libya

Geolocation

32.087047, 20.150771 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

Eight children were allegedly injured by artillery shelling from an unknown belligerent in Benghazi.

Libya Alahrar TV wrote: “Al-Galaa Hospital for Surgery and Accidents in Benghazi announced that eight children were injured yesterday, Friday, as a result of a shell landing in the Zamzam neighborhood.

The hospital added in a statement on Saturday that the injured children, who were between the ages of eleven and sixteen years old, had moderate or critical injuries, including those who received first aid and left the hospital.

There has been no official clarifying statement issued by the official authorities in Benghazi until the moment to reveal who was behind the launch of the shell.”

Other sources published similar reports.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    8
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown
  • Suspected target
    Other

Sources (4) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]

Reports of the incident mention the neighbourhood of Zamzam (زمزم), for which the generic coordinates are: 32.087047, 20.150771. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

  • Reports of the incident mention the neighbourhood of Zamzam (زمزم).

    Imagery:
    Google Earth

Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    8
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown
  • Suspected target
    Other

Sources (4) [ collapse]

Libya 2011: Total number of strikes

Number of reported air and artillery strikes in Libya in 2011. A strike can involve multiple aircraft or munitions released.

Chart legend:

View this chart as:

Best for comparing an individual group over time Best for comparing totals over time

Published

March 18, 2021

Written by

Oliver Imhof

Assisted by

Anna Zahn, Ayana Enomoto-Hurst, Clive Vella, Duncan Salkovskis, Imogen Piper, Mai Fareed, Mohammed al Jumaily, Osama Mansour, Peixian Wang, Shihab Halep and Mohamed ben Halim

NATO members still refuse to discuss potential civilian harm from their strikes a decade after intervening against Gaddafi.

Ten years ago, French President Nicholas Sarkozy welcomed British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Elysee Palace with a shock announcement. “He surprised us both when he said that he had already issued orders for French jets to take off,” Cameron later recalled. The first airstrikes of the international intervention against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s forces hit their targets less than an hour later.

The 2011 Libyan civil war had begun on February 17th as an Arab Spring uprising, with tens of thousands taking to the streets. Within weeks Gaddafi’s forces had brutally crushed most of the protests, and were closing in on the last major rebel stronghold of Benghazi. With fears of a Srebrenica-style massacre, the United Nations passed a resolution demanding the protection of civilians, upon which the NATO intervention was then justified. The war officially ended in October as Gaddafi, whose forces had been routed, was captured and killed by NATO-backed rebels.

Neither during nor after the war has there been a thorough analysis of the number of civilians likely killed by all sides. For the tenth anniversary of the conflict, Airwars has conducted the first comprehensive overview of civilian harm from all belligerents, based on the available public materials.

Over six months Airwars reviewed thousands of media and social media posts, and post-conflict investigations; as well as conducting interviews with survivors and officials.

The result is a detailed look at a brief but violent conflict that killed at least 1,142 civilians and injured at least one thousand more in 212 incidents of concern that Airwars researched. By the highest estimate, as many as 3,400 civilians were killed in those events.

The new archive offers a detailed insight into gruesome air and artillery strikes, as well as shocking ground massacres that occurred during the civil war. The tally of civilian deaths during the uprising was almost certainly significantly higher than the Airwars study indicates. In 2011 for example, social media use by Libyans was still relatively limited, and independent media in the country was not yet established. Based on Airwars’ experience of other conflicts such as Syria, a significant number of local claims of civilian harm made online at the time may also since have been lost, as a result of sites being closed or accounts being shut down.

Many small scale ground actions are additionally not reflected at present in the Airwars database – though likely constituted a key element of the civilian toll. Most estimates of Libya 2011 casualties to date have included both fighters and civilians – with a Libyan government study from 2013 likely being the most accurate, with its estimate of 4,700 fighter and civilian deaths on the rebel side alone, as well as at least 2,100 people listed at the time as missing.

Armed men at the edge of Fashlum Al-Dhahra neighbourhood in Tripoli on February 20th 2011, where up to 700 civilians were alleged killed by Gaddafi forces while taking part in mass demonstrations, Image via Taha Krewi

Most deaths from Gaddafi forces

The tragedy of Libya’s 2011 war was not just of those who were killed, injured and displaced – but of the new world it ushered in. Following a couple of years of uneasy calm, by 2014 the country had split in two and reverted to civil war. Only in October 2020 was a United Nations-brokered deal seemingly able to bring a decade of violence to an end, though the rifts remain.

Hala Bugaighis, a Libyan lawyer and founder of the Jusoor Libya think tank, said the 2011 war has had two long-lasting effects that have deeply impacted Libyan society.

“The first is the impact on the social fabric that emerged from armed conflicts between cities,” she told Airwars. During the war some neighbouring towns found themselves on either side of the conflict, with one broadly loyal to Gaddafi’s forces and the other supporting the rebellion.

“The second is the long term effect of the conflict on the mental wellbeing of civilians, including PTSD, stress and depression,” Bugaighis added.

The majority of civilian harm identified in the events reviewed by Airwars was reportedly caused by forces of the Gaddafi regime – with between 869 and 1,999 likely deaths and as many as 1,100 injuries identified from 105 assessed actions. Overall, as many as 2,300 civilian deaths were locally alleged from these same Gaddafi actions. Many more small-scale killings have yet to be fully documented.

At the beginning of the uprising, Gaddafi forces were reported to have deliberately targeted protesters with both heavy weaponry and small arms fire, causing high numbers of casualties.

Later on, several massacres and indiscriminate shelling of urban areas by the regime were documented in both local and international media.

“In the first days of the uprising, I was so scared,” said Bugaighis, who lived in Tripoli at the time. “Growing up in Libya we were raised to fear the regime, so at first, I thought nothing would take down the regime. I started to realise that it is more serious when the state of emergency was declared in Tripoli and foreigners were evacuated.”

Many Gaddafi forces incidents had previously gone unreported to an international audience, given the tendency of international media to focus only on larger scale events. On June 29th for example, a review of local sources found that a 13-year old boy named Moftah Muhammad Jalwal was killed and six more civilians injured by Gaddafi forces shelling on the Doufan neighbourhood of Misurata. Gruesome videos showed bloodstains at the site and injured children in the local hospital.

Moftah Muhammad Jalwal, reportedly killed by Gaddafi forces on June 29th 2011 in Misurata (Screengrab via a video by Ali Al Dadi)

NATO: lower civilian harm but lack of accountability

A decade on from NATO’s intervention, neither it nor any individual member has ever publicly admitted to a single civilian death. Libyans themselves tell a very different story.

Airwars reviewed claims of thousands of airstrikes reportedly conducted by NATO and its allies during Libya 2011, which between them resulted in 223 to 403 likely civilian deaths and 215 to 357 injuries in 84 events of concern, according to our assessment. NATO itself declared having conducted 7,600 strikes. Overall, Airwars identified as many as 800 civilians locally alleged killed by NATO forces – though those higher claims appear to have been significantly exaggerated by pro-Gaddafi sources at the time.

United Nations investigators after the war accused both Gaddafi and rebel forces of indiscriminate killings, but concluded that NATO had conducted a “highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties.” They noted that the international alliance had used precision-guided munitions and carried out extensive pre-strike assessments to try and avoid killing civilians.

Frederic Wehrey, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, said NATO planners were supported by Western special forces marking targets on the ground, which had contributed to the accuracy of bombing and helped avoid civilian harm.

Both rebels and NATO were “very active in liaison, coordinating various operation centres even though NATO commandos made clear they were not acting as the rebels’ air force,” he says.

But while NATO itself insisted it was purely focused on protecting civilians, key members of the alliance were accused of supporting regime change. An Airwars investigation has found that a Norwegian effort to negotiate Gaddafi’s stepping down in April 2011 was seemingly undermined by France and the UK. As the former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store now notes, “Had there been in the international community a willingness to pursue this track with some authority and dedication, I believe there could have been an opening to achieve a less dramatic outcome and avoid the collapse of the Libyan state.”

Even though the number of reported civilian casualties from NATO actions is far lower when compared to Gaddafi forces, Airwars’ findings indicate that likely fatalities were still significantly higher than the estimated 60 deaths that the United Nations documented at the time, in its review of 20 events of concern.

By contrast and based on local reporting from the time across Libya, as well as major investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the New York Times, Airwars has identified at least 223 likely civilian deaths.

Reported victims of NATO airstrikes on Majer on August 8th 2011 (via Majer Zletin Massacre)

Those seeking clarity about individual incidents remain sadly disappointed. Inquiries to NATO about civilian harm from its actions in Libya are routinely referred to member states, which in turn then refer back to NATO. All recent Freedom of Information requests from Airwars to individual member states about their potential role in civilian harm during 2011 have been denied.

Only on one known occasion, on June 19th 2011, did NATO acknowledge that a malfunction of a munition in an attack on Tripoli’s Souk al Joumaa neighbourhood had potentially resulted in civilian casualties.

Mohammed Al Gharari, who lost five family members in the strike, told Airwars he had the following questions for NATO: “You struck people and admitted that it was by mistake. Why did you never care about us? If you had any humanity and you believe in human rights, you would have at least cared.”

“Even after ten years, no phone call or even any official has contacted us.”

Aftermath of the incident in Souq Al Joumaa on June 19th, 2011

Little reporting on civilian harm from rebels

Among the three parties to Libya’s 2011 war, the lowest documented number of civilian casualties was reported from rebel actions – with 57 incidents of concern reviewed by Airwars containing allegations of between 50 and 113 likely deaths.

That relatively low estimate of civilian harm from rebel actions can be explained by the lack of an air force and access to heavy weapons, particularly early on. It may also reflect a lack of media interest at the time.

The largest known loss of civilian life from rebel actions was reported on August 10th in the remote southern city of Tawergha, when between 24 and 74 inhabitants, including whole families and an imam of the town, were claimed killed by artillery fire. Tawergha was considered loyal to Gaddafi, with its more than 40,000 residents forced to flee by rebels. The majority of residents have still not been able to return a decade on.

“130 men from Tawergha are missing ever since, and no one knows anything about them. They were taken by the rebels. My brother is one of them,” Gabriel Farag, who also had to flee Tawergha, told Airwars. “These 130 men were arrested just for the mere fact that they are from Tawergha.”

“The war has impacted Libyan society in many ways, especially in social relationships among tribes. Libyan society is a tribal society, and the war has broken the connections between tribes across the country,” says Mustafa Al Fetouri, a Libyan journalist who covered the civil war back in 2011.

Mabrouk Elyan, reportedly among those killed by rebel forces on August 10th 2011 in Tawergha, via Tawergha Martyrs

Ten years of anarchy

What followed after the 2011 defeat of Gaddafi was a decade of chaos and on-and-off civil war that turned Libya into a failed state. Many hopes were betrayed and opportunities missed in a country that had once been described as Africa’s most developed.

“The notion of justice was completely absent after the revolution,” says Bughaigis. “Instead of avoiding a repetition of the injustice that occurred in the past, such as the Abu Salim prison incident or the killing of students, all we saw was the repetition of these mistakes over and over again.”

Airwars found that some victims had been paid compensation by one of Libya’s post-revolution governments, but only for damage done to property. Efforts to create proper mechanisms for restitution were abandoned when the country slipped into civil war again in 2014.

“Justice was one of the principles of the Libyan uprising. However, all those in power have failed to do so, and it may be in a systematic way to entrench chaos and hate,” explained Bughaigis.

Former US President Barack Obama once described the failure to plan for what came after NATO’s intervention in Libya as a “shit show”, and as his biggest foreign policy mistake. “We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess,” he told The Atlantic in 2016.

However, better times could now be ahead for Libyans, with the country recently selecting a unified transitional government which has committed to working on a reconciliation process for those affected by the civil wars. Those in the international community who have become embroiled in Libya’s violence since 2011 could now too – it might be hoped – finally acknowledge the civilian harm they themselves have caused.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Family photo of Libya’s outgoing Presidency Council today after they handed over power to new unity government represented here by prime minister Dabaiba & new Presidency Council president Mnefi (front right and left) pic.twitter.com/Zgq36LCFde

— Mary Fitzgerald (@MaryFitzger) March 16, 2021

▲ Vehicles belonging to Gaddafi forces explode after a NATO air strike between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah, March 20th 2011 (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)