Libya Tribune

By Melissa Salyk-Virk

New America and Airwars have found 4,349 reported airstrikes in Libya from September 2012 to February 5, 2020. This report utilizes on-the-ground reports collected from a wide variety of sources.

This study seeks to fill the gaps in English-language reporting on civilian casualties in Libya, thus many of the sources are in Arabic. Strikes in this report include allegations of civilian casualties by all parties.

PART (I)

Introduction: An Overview of the Air Campaigns in Libya

Like so many months before, June 6, 2018 began with a thunderous airstrike that hit the town of Bani Walid in northwest Libya, about 100 miles from Tripoli, a town that used to be considered “Libya’s last stronghold loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.”

A press release by the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated that four ISIS-Libya combatants died and no civilians were harmed. However, local reporting with photographic evidence, also confirmed by the UN, stated that the same strike had killed three civilians driving in the car with the UN-designated terrorist.

Local television network Libya Alaan tweeted, translated from Arabic, “#Libya_ now A nightly raid on #Bani_Walid that resulted in the death of 6 people, including a prominent leader of the Islamic State # ISIS ‘Abd al-Ati Eshtiwi Abu Sita’, known as ‘Kiwi.’”

Earlier that same week, the local news outlet Libya Observer reported that Africa Intelligence alleged that France had provided General Khalifa Haftar with a reconnaissance aircraft; French missiles sold to them by the United States were also found in a Libyan National Army (LNA) camp.

France publicly stated its support of a democratic process and constitution building, but the possible supplying of weapons and/or aircrafts to the LNA was antithetical to that process. France also hosted discussions at its Libya Summit on May 29, 2018, pushing for elections in Libya.

Fast-forward to July 2019, the BBC reported there were French missiles on a pro-Haftar military base.

On June 16, 2018, the LNA struck the town of Ra’s Lanuf, a coastal city about 400 miles from Tripoli. Between one and three civilians were killed that day, two of them children. Ra’s Lanuf was hit the next three days, and at least another two civilians were killed. That June, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported that there were at least 31 civilian casualties that month throughout Libya, 16 of which were deaths.

Since the beginning of summer 2018, there have been many similar incidents. According to New America and Airwars data, the strike count in Libya is 1,863 from June 1, 2018 through February 5, 2020 and between 333 and 467 civilians have been killed.

One of the worst hit areas is Tripoli, which was struck over 1,200 times. When Haftar was unable to gain control of Tripoli, which has been part of his plan for years, he looked for the next best thing, the surrounding coastal cities of Misrata and Sirte, as well Jabal al Gharbi, a district near Tripoli. According to New America and Airwars data, each of those cities was struck more than 100 times during the same period.

New America and Airwars have documented more than 4,300 airstrikes reportedly conducted between September 2012 and February 5, 2020 in Libya, which resulted in at least 611 civilian deaths using the low-end estimate, and as many as 899 civilian deaths using the high-end estimate.

There are more than 10 international states actively contributing to the conflict in one form or another. Turkey, Chad, and Italy each reportedly conducted at least one airstrike since June 2018. Various open source reports show that Russia, Jordan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia support the LNA either with financing or by providing weapons, and Qatar financially backs the Government of National Accord (GNA).

A Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan official source told New America before the release of this report that Jordan has not financially backed or provided any military resources or training in Libya.

Furthermore, the official source said Jordan abides by United Nations arms embargoes, respects the territorial sovereignty of Libya, and rejects foreign intervention in Libya. Lastly, the source said, Jordan, as a manufacturer of military weapons, expects its buyers to not resell them in Libya.

France, Egypt, and the United States are involved in various capacities (from weapons support to deploying airstrikes); however, the most alarming turn of events since 2018 are the recent alleged strikes by Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey entered the conflict in July 2019 with an airstrike that allegedly killed one civilian. Six months later, they sent 2,000 Syrian troops to support the GNA.

In an email to New America, a government official from the Turkish Embassy/Defence Office in Washington, D.C. said that Turkish personnel are in Libya at the request of the GNA as a result of their collective signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Republic of Turkey and the GNA on November 27, 2019 for security and military cooperation.

Further, the official said that Turkish personnel are in Libya to provide advisory and training services to the GNA, and Turkey has not carried out any airstrikes in Libya because all weapons, systems and vehicles are operated by Libyans.

Reported strikes by the UAE in coordination with the LNA have contributed to over 100 civilian fatalities since June 2018. The 1,863 strikes since June 2018 account for more than half the number of civilian casualties throughout the entire conflict.

The LNA’s more aggressive approach indicates that Haftar and his supporters are willing to indiscriminately kill civilians as he attempts to take over the capital. This increased danger has caused a mass exodus from various cities throughout Libya.

As a result, according to UN estimates, at least 823,000 people are in need of various humanitarian aid; there are at least 355,67215 internally displaced people; and there are 47,07916 registered refugees and asylum seekers due to the ongoing conflict across Libya.

These high numbers of people face significant risks as they look for asylum. According to a UN report on children and armed conflict, “refugee and migrant children were reportedly subjected to sexual abuse, including forced prostitution and sexual exploitation, in conditions that could amount to sexual slavery, by traffickers or criminal networks allegedly associated with armed groups.”

Those conditions are in addition to UN reporting on child and youth recruitment by belligerents in the conflict. Families are not only attempting to escape for safety concerns, but also fear unprecedented economic instability.

With oil production down, and petroleum exports accounting for nearly 70 percent of all of Libya’s exports, the country is continuing to rapidly decline. Haftar’s affiliates have blocked oil fields and export terminals at airports since January 18, 2020, which has drastically further limited production.

Crude oil production has reportedly fallen to 163,684 barrels per day; Prime Minister al-Sarraj believes the loss in revenue due to the blockade is USD $1.4 billion and growing. Since Haftar’s Tripoli offensive in April 2019, growth in Libya’s GDP has reduced by 66.6 percent.

Society in parts of Libya is deteriorating. Benghazi and other eastern Libyan towns cope with constant tension, blackouts that last half the day, fear of bombings, possible abductions of family members, attacks on women, and abductions of bank employees and administrators. Benghazi has become a central trading point for drugs and arms sales.

Across the country, there are disappearances and torture of individuals deemed by the opposing sides as dangerous. For example, The Independent reported in 2019 that during the fight for Derna, LNA affiliates allegedly committed war crimes, with actions described as “instances of torture, murder and mutilation of corpses.”

Since Haftar’s Tripoli offensive, more than 60 attacks on healthcare facilities, workers, and/or ambulances have occurred according to UN reports. These attacks indicate Haftar and his affiliates’ willingness to arbitrarily attack civilians if it means geographic gains in LNA territory.

New America and Airwars have documented more than 4,300 airstrikes reportedly conducted between September 2012 and February 5, 2020 in Libya, which resulted in at least 611 civilian deaths using the low-end estimate, and as many as 899 civilian deaths using the high-end estimate.

Some international organizations continue to attempt to produce an accurate death toll of civilians in Libya and identify the responsible parties. However, a lack of reporting and self-reporting of strikes has enabled those responsible to often go unnoticed.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) consistently provides figures for civilian casualties of the hostilities in Libya. However, according to its press releases, UNSMIL is sometimes unable to “determine with certainty” which parties contributed to the casualties, with the exception of the Libyan National Army.

Human Rights Watch at times reports casualties from “unidentified aircraft,” due to an inability to identify the party responsible. With some exceptions, no belligerents typically claim responsibility for these airstrikes or their outcomes.

New America and Airwars have found 4,349 reported airstrikes in Libya from September 2012 to February 5, 2020. As outlined in the methodology section, on-the-ground reports were collected from a wide variety of sources. Because this study seeks to fill gaps in English-language reporting on civilian casualties in Libya, many of the sources are in Arabic.

Strikes in this report include allegations of civilian casualties by the following parties: Libya’s GNA, which is recognized by the UN; the LNA, a rival military force led by Haftar; Egypt; the United Arab Emirates; France; Turkey; Chad; Italy; and the United States.

Various open source reports show that Russia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar have either financially backed and/or provided troops to either warring side—GNA and LNA.

For the purposes of this data collection project, as well as “Airstrikes and Civilian Casualties in Libya: Since the 2011 NATO Intervention,” which was released in June 2018, we are an all-source monitor. This methodology has not changed, and continues to be described as follows:

When documenting potential civilian deaths from airstrikes, we draw upon a wide range of materials. These include reports from international and local news agencies and nongovernmental organizations, as well as social media sites such as local resident groups, Facebook pages, YouTube footage of incidents, and local tweets relating to specific events, to name a few.

These individual sources and links are compiled into a large and evolving event archive on the Airwars website, and data sheets are available on both the New America and Airwars websites. In the data review process, the collated material received a grade from an English-language assessor to determine the likely credibility of the allegation.

Because of wide variations in the quality of casualty reporting, for this project we employed the following grading system for events alleging airstrikes with noncombatant victims:

  • Confirmed: An international or local belligerent has accepted responsibility for the killing or injuring of noncombatants or allied forces in a particular incident.
  • Fair: There is reporting of an alleged incident from two or more credible sources (often coupled with biographical, photographic and/or video evidence). Crucially, there are also well-reported military strikes in the near vicinity for the date in question. We believe these cases in particular require urgent investigation.
  • Weak: There is reporting of an alleged incident from only one credible source. These often feature biographical details of victims along with photographic evidence from a reputable source. There are also reported airstrikes in the near vicinity for the date in question.
  • Contested Events: Incidents that involve competing claims for the origins of a violent incident (i.e., aircraft from two different countries/ forces are reported as responsible for a single attack).
  • Discounted: Cases where our researchers or accused actors can demonstrate that those killed were in fact combatants, or that an incident likely did not result in any civilian casualties.

***

Melissa Salyk-Virk – Senior Policy Analyst, International Security Program. Her research focuses on armed drone proliferation and the U.S. counterterrorism ground/air/drone strikes abroad, as well as the corresponding militant and civilian casualties.

____________