NATO Investigating Airstrike on Libyan Rebels

April 7, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Libyan rebel fighters are pictured at the entrance of the eastern city of Benghazi on April 7, 2011. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)
Libyan rebel fighters are pictured at the entrance of the eastern city of Benghazi on April 7, 2011. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)
Rebels fighting pro-government forces in Libya said they were struck by an accidental NATO airstrike near the eastern town of Brega. Several fighters were killed in the incident.

NATO said in a statement that it is trying to confirm if what the rebels are saying is true and is investigating the “specific details.”

The rebels allege that coalition aircraft bombed a line of tanks piloted by rebel forces between the towns of Brega and Ajdabiyah. NATO said the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi “has been fierce for several days.”

Due to the intensity of the combat, NATO said the incident is difficult to ascertain. “The situation is unclear and fluid with mechanized weapons traveling in all directions,” the statement reads.

A week ago, rebels claimed that accidental NATO airstrikes killed 13 near Brega.

In the wake of the latest incident on Thursday, rebels are becoming ever more incensed with NATO, alleging they are not doing their job to protect civilians.

“We were standing by our tanks and NATO fired two rockets at us,” a rebel, Salem Mislat, told Al Jazeera television. “NATO are liars. They are siding with Gadhafi.”

A report from the Washington Post quoted a rebel spokesperson as saying that NATO was not responsible. Rather, Gadhafi aircraft conducted the airstrikes. However, details surrounding such claims are unclear.

Top NATO officials earlier this week said that the 28-member alliance is not taking sides with the rebels or Gadhafi, insisting that protecting civilians is its main priority.

“What remains clear is that NATO will continue to uphold the UN mandate and strike forces that can potentially cause harm to the civilian population of Libya,” NATO said in the statement.

Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court said that Gadhafi was planning on killing a large number of civilians before the no-fly zone was initiated last month, according to a Reuters report.

NATO took over military operations after the U.S. said they were backing down.

Stalemate on the Horizon

In the oil-rich city of Brega, fighting between rebels and pro-government forces has been back and forth, with either side gaining 15 miles and losing 15 miles, rebel spokesperson Mustafa Gheriani told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“This kind of desert fight is very fluid … [and] is normal in a desert war,” he told the television station.

Such a scenario where neither side gains one another could become a more prominent occurrence throughout the embattled North African nation, top U.S. generals said on Thursday.

U.S. Africa Command General Carter Ham spoke in front of a Senate hearing and agreed with statements made by Republican Sen. John McCain that the situation in Libya would turn into a stalemate. “I would agree with that at present on the ground,” he said.

Pro-Gadhafi forces have used “human shields” to protect troops and military equipment by hiding them in populated civilian areas as of late, top NATO and U.S. generals said this week. As a result, it has made coalition airstrikes much more difficult to carry out.