The death of Gaddafi has finally concluded his eight- month stand-off with NATO. But as the alliance and the new Libyan government celebrate the war’s end, the untold numbers killed in the intervention cast a dark shadow over their victory.
As Libyans poured out onto the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi to celebrate the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the cost of the war will weigh heavily on their nation for some time to come.
While there are no exact figures on casualties, speaking back in September, the health minister in the new Libyan government estimated that at least 30,000 people had been killed and 50,000 wounded during the first six months of war.
Apart from those deaths brought about by combat between Gaddafi loyalists and rebel forces, NATO, which had been authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to use any means necessary to protect civilians, has faced heavy criticism for its often deadly airstrikes.
One such instance occurred in Tripoli on June 19 when a NATO missile missed its target, killing at least nine civilians as a result. NATO admitted its culpability in the deaths.
By the end of the month, three separate NATO airstrikes around the country would ultimately claim another 34 civilian lives.
However, the largest single incident came on August 9, when the government reported that 85 people had been killed in a NATO airstrike on Majar, a village some 90 miles east of Tripoli.
Speaking after the attack, the alliance’s commander in Libya, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, told Agence France-Presse (AFP), “I can assure you that there (were not) 85 civilians present, but I cannot assure you that there were none at all.”
However, Bouchard’s ambiguity does not appear to be a mistake. Speaking with McClatchy news service, NATO spokesman Col. Roland Lavoie said, “NATO does not have any troops on the ground in Libya and consequently no reliable method to verify the civilian casualty allegations.”
But while NATO can claim to deny everything it can’t confirm, the inability or unwillingness to count civilian deaths cuts both ways.
In a telephone call to Reuters on September 19, Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the deposed Libyan leader, claimed that “in the last 17 days, more than 2,000 residents of the city of Sirte were killed in NATO air strikes.”
However true his assertion might be, with hospitals, commanders on both sides of the conflict and local officials forming the basis for most of the casualty reports, the world might never get a clear picture of what exactly happened in the eight-month civil war that ended with the killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday.
Perhaps more critically, a nation which had a remarkably high standard of living prior to the conflict now faces a potentially massive humanitarian crisis. Speaking with RT earlier this week, former MI5 agent Annie Machon claimed NATO’s intervention has plunged Libya back into the Stone Age.
“They’ve had free education, free health, they could study abroad. When they got married they got a certain amount of money. So they were rather the envy of many other citizens of African countries. Now, of course, since NATO’s humanitarian intervention the infrastructure of their country has been bombed back to the Stone Age. They will not have the same quality of life. Women probably will not have the same degree of emancipation under any new transitional government. The national wealth is probably going to be siphoned off by Western corporations. Perhaps the standard of living in Libya might have been slightly higher than it perhaps is now in America and the UK with the recession,” she said.
As the Libyan people now attempt to rebuild their country, it remains to be seen if NATO forces, which supposedly began military operations to defend civilians at all costs, will be as willing to help prevent any further loss of life now that the Gaddafi regime has finally come to an end.