28 Apr 2011

Libya: rebel deaths linked to NATO Misrata airstrikes

Up to 15 people, believed to be rebel fighters, may have been killed in a NATO airstrike in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, local sources tell Channel 4 News.

Rebel deaths linked to NATO air strikes in Misrata (Reuters)

Channel 4 News understands that up to 15 people, all believed to be rebel fighters, may have died in the airstrike.

NATO confirmed that an airstrike had taken place near Misrata in the last 24 hours.

A NATO official told Channel 4 News: “NATO aircraft struck a number of combat vehicles 10 miles south east of Misrata port yesterday, targeting an area where NATO forces had broken up a large group of pro-Gaddafi forces on Tuesday.

“NATO cannot independently verify reports that these vehicles were operated by opposition forces. We deeply regret any loss of human life as our mission in Libya is to protect civilians and civilian populated areas against attack by the Qadhafi regime forces. There was no NATO attack on any building in or around the Misrata.”

We deeply regret any loss of human life as our mission in Libya is to protect civilians. NATO official

The port city has been under siege for more than 70 days, and over the last few days NATO airstrikes have forced Colonel Gaddafi’s troops to retreat.

Misrata is the only rebel-held city in western Libya, and provides a key link to the sea for the rebels in Benghazi. As such, it has become a major battleground as pro-Gaddafi forces have battled to regain control.

The New York Times is also reporting that up to 12 rebel fighters were killed and five wounded in a NATO airstrike on Wednesday, saying that a rebel commander confirmed the deaths reluctantly as he did not want to discourage further NATO support.

Reuters is reporting that seven rebel fighters in Misrata died overnight when forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi hit their checkpoint with artillery fire and rockets. It is unclear if this is a different version of the same event, or a separate incident.

A local doctor told Reuters: “15 of our rebels at a checkpoint near the front line have been attacked by Gaddafi’s troops with heavy artillery and then with rockets. We received seven dead and four injured.”

Read more from Alex Thomson in Misrata on: The price for NATO's protection?


If the reports of NATO’s involvement are accurate, it will not be the first time the NATO strikes have hit civilians and rebels in Libya.

At the beginning of April, NATO chiefs were unapologetic about a strike which hit rebel tanks, leaving four dead – although they did later express “regret”. A separate NATO strike killed up to 14 rebel fighters near Brega.

In March, six Libyan villagers were shot near Benghazi by a US team rescuing a pilot.


As the fighting continues, the humanitarian battle in Misrata is also ongoing. On Wednesday the Red Star ferry managed to dock in Misrata and take aboard 800 stranded migrant workers, as well as deliver aid and medical assistance to those remaining in the besieged city.

Blogging for Channel 4 News before going onshore from the Red Star, Alex Thomson said one of the doctors bringing aid to Misrata had travelled from the Midlands and was using three weeks of his holiday to treat the wounded in Misrata’s one remaining hospital.