By: Lukas I. Alpert
March 31, 2011
At least 40 civilians have been killed in NATO air strikes on Tripoli, the Vatican’s top envoy to Libya said Thursday.
“They are killing dozens of civilians,” said Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli. “In the Tajoura neighborhood, around 40 civilians were killed, and a house with a family inside collapsed.”
“In the Buslim neighborhood, due to bombardments, a civilian building came down, although it is not clear how many people were inside.”
Martinelli said that he had not seen any casualties himself, but was relying on reports from “contacts” among Tripoli’s residents.NATO said it was investigating Martinelli’s claim, but has insisted it has no evidence of civilian casualties from air strikes.
“I am aware of the report … I take every one of those issues seriously,” said Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, who is commanding NATO’s Libyan operation.
“We are very careful in the prosecution of any of the possible targets that we have,” he said. “We have strict rules of engagement provided to us and we are operating within the legal mandate of our United Nations mission.”
Libyan officials have taken foreign reporters to the sites of what they claimed were civilian deaths as the result of NATO air strikes, but the evidence was inconclusive.
There have been reports that Moammar Khadafy’s loyalists have buried empty coffins in front of cameras in some sort of staged political theater.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to tell congress Thursday that Khadafy will ultimately be removed from power but not solely as the result of military force.
“Deposing the Khadafy regime, as welcome as that eventuality would be, is not part of the military mission,” according to a transcript of Gates’ prepared remarks before the House Armed Services Committee.
“In my view, the removal of Colonel Khadafy will likely be achieved over time through political and economic measures and by his own people,” Gates said.
“However, this NATO-led operation can degrade Khadafy’s military capacity to the point where he — and those around him — will be forced into a very different set of choices and behaviors in the future.”
Gates says no U.S. military forces will set foot on the ground in Libya, but made no mention of reports that CIA personnel are working in Libya with the rebel forces.