Newly released documents definitively link Danish war planes to strikes that killed Libyan civilians
A joint investigation by Airwars, the Danish news site Altinget and The Guardian has sparked a review of civilian harm allegations from Danish airstrikes in the 2011 war in Libya.
Published on January 25th, the two-year investigation revealed the existence of a previously secret Danish internal review of allegations of civilian harm from its more than 900 bombs dropped as part of the NATO campaign against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The military review found Danish pilots conducted strikes in incidents in which at least 14 civilians were killed. The document was produced in 2012, a year after the war, but kept from the Danish public for more than a decade.
The revelations are the first time a particular NATO country has been definitively linked to specific airstrikes that harmed civilians in Libya. You can read the news stories in English (Guardian) or Danish (Altinget), and find the full story behind the investigation.
In a direct response to the investigation, Danish Minister of Defence Troels Lund Poulsen ordered the Danish Armed Forces to commit a formal review of the allegations A top Norwegian official said such civilian harm was “unsurprising” as NATO’s targeting information was limited during the campaign in Libya.
Several Danish political parties have called for the government to establish a compensation model for civilians harmed, with Christian Friis Bach from the Radikale, emphasising: “If Danish soldiers become aware that they have conducted an airstrike resulting in unintended civilian casualties, then you should proactively take responsibility and reach out with a compensation model that has been established before the incident takes place”.
The investigation also sparked an intense conversation on the possibility of a ‘cover up’ in Copenhagen – with a focus on who knew about the internal review and when. Both the foreign minister and the defence minister at the time that the Danish armed forces concluded their review said they do not recall being briefed about the reports. The foreign minister emphasised he would have remembered, had he been told, while the defence minister referred follow-up questions to the ministry.
Then head of NATO, Rasmus Fogh Andersen – a former Danish prime minister – has refused to comment. Former Danish defence minister Hans Engell hailed the “skilful” investigation, but said the apparent cover up “threatens the credibility of the armed forces” in Denmark.
In Libya, the renowned Arabic paper Asharq Al-Awsat reported a number of politicians and human rights activists calling for action against Denmark to seek compensation for the victims.
Since the 2011 air campaign in Libya, Denmark has contributed to several international coalitions, including the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria, which Airwars estimates led to at least 8,199 civilian casualties.
In late 2023, Denmark joined the US-led ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ campaign targeting the Houthi forces in Yemen, in a supporting capacity. It is unclear what civilian harm mitigation tools are applied in this campaign and whether systems have been established for civilians to report potential harm from airstrikes.
Emily Tripp, Airwars’ director, said: “This investigation reveals once again that a failure in transparency over civilian harm allegations does a disservice both to the citizens in whose name such wars are fought, and to those civilians who deserve answers about which nation killed their loved ones.
“The fact that Danish officials went to the trouble of reviewing these allegations is actually a positive: very few NATO allies engage with external allegations at this level. But refusing to then share those findings with the public raises serious questions about political processes and practices both in Denmark and in the wider NATO campaign.”
Below is a list of some of the articles about the investigation
Podcast: How it was revealed that Denmark likely killed civilians in Libya (Danish)
Former Danish Defence Minister Hans Engell: The Libya disclosures once again threatens the credibility of the armed forces (Altinget)
Middle Eastern media
New evidence emerges from 2011 (Al Hadath Libya)