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NATO: We didn't know Libya rebels used tanks

NATO says it launched air strikes against the anti-Gaddafi rebels because it didn’t realise they were the ones in tanks.

Russell Harding: the deputy commander of NATO's Libya operations has admitted his forces didn't know the Libyan rebels had tanks.
Russell Harding: the deputy commander of NATO's Libya operations has admitted his forces didn't know the Libyan rebels had tanks.
Image: Salvatore Laporta/AP

NATO HAS ACKNOWLEDGED that some of its airstrikes had hit rebels using tanks to fight government forces in eastern Libya – explaning that nobody had told them the rebels used tanks.

British Rear Admiral Russell Harding, the deputy commander of the NATO operation, said that in the past only forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi had used heavy armored vehicles.

Harding said the rebels and government troops are engaged in a series of advances and retreats between the eastern coastal towns of Brega and Ajdabiya, making it difficult for pilots to distinguish between them.

NATO jets attacked a rebel convoy between the two towns yesterday, killing at least five fighters and destroying or damaging a number of armoured vehicles.

“It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in [rebel] deaths,” Harding told reporters in Naples, where the alliance’s operational center is located.

“I am not apologising,” he said. “The situation on the ground was and remains extremely fluid, and until yesterday we did not have information that [anti-Gaddafi] forces are using tanks.”

The strikes, including an attack earlier this week, provoked angry denunciations of NATO by the rebels. At the same time, NATO officials have expressed frustration with the Libyan insurgents, who now view the alliance – whose mandate is limited to protecting civilians in Libya – as their proxy air force.

NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, expressed regret over the loss of life, saying alliance forces were doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians.

NATO took control over the international airstrikes last week.

AP

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