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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Strike that Killed Seif

Sunday, May 1 2011
Last update May 8, 

It's been reported by Libyan government that a NATO strike on Saturday in Tripoli has somehow killed three young children, all grandchildren of leader Muammar Gaddafi, along with the leader's youngest son, Seif (or Saif) al-Arab al-Gaddafi, age 29. (Not to be confused with older son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam). Further, says Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, the same strike nearly killed the leader himself and his wife, who were in the building that was struck by three missiles.

This post will seek to work out how and why this happened. First, al Jazeera's live blog for April 30 gives the apparent time of the NATO strike as about 9pm local time.
The Reuters news agency quotes witnesses who say they heard loud explosions in the capital, Tripoli.

"Missiles appeared to fall behind the Rixos Hotel, which is near a major conference centre, opposite the palace Muammar Gaddafi uses to host visiting dignitaries and not far from his Bab al-Aziziyah compound. It was not immediately clear what the target was," the news agency reported.

Then, and until the --- is from a Los Angeles Times report:
[T]he possibility that the strike had killed civilians could deepen splits within the alliance and at the United Nations about the goals of the air campaign. 
Turkey, Germany and several other alliance members are deeply worried that NATO is moving toward a war aimed at overthrowing the Kadafi government, a goal that they insist was not authorized by the U.N. resolution allowing military action to protect civilians in Libya.
NATO for the moment has been unable to confirm who was killed in the strike. They insist they only target "command, control, and communication centers" or C3, coordinating the government's military response to the NATO-backed insurrection. Or, as phrased by NATO, "attacking civilians." As usual, they deny trying to assassinate the leader, which is expressly forbidden under international law.

But command and control is a slippery term. If they had known Gaddafi was there, it would have been okay to strike, as it was most definitely commanding military forces.
In a statement, the Canadian commander of the NATO operation in Libya said the alliance had attacked "a known command-and-control building" in Libya. 
The NATO officer would not discuss the intelligence that led to the attack or whether the alliance knew Kadafi was in the building when it was attacked [...but he] suggested that the Libyan leader may have surrounded himself with members of his family even as he was communicating with his military forces. "If Kadafi had people in the building he was using to conduct command and control, we have no way of knowing they were there," said the officer
They now believe col. Gaddafi himself - not a real colonel and really more of a figurehead - was personally controling the military operations. As if he'd have no staff of professionals to manage these things!

They should be expected to have proof of this, but I suspect rather they received intel that the leader was there, and then "decided" he might be controlling things from there, and struck, only to learn he'd surrounded himself with "human shields" as he did so.

It could be the case, but it just ... seems unlikely. But once it's done, this discovery the leader was staying where those orders had come from might serve as a useful "proof" for NATO's leaders. If Muammar Gaddafi is running things militarily, it could be argued he is a viable ("command and control") target. I'd presume there is little or no precedent for this, so it's hard to say if that argument would stick.

What it comes down to is two questions:
1) Was Mr. Gaddafi in fact inside the building that was struck?
2) Were there in fact war commands coming from that same building?

A lot rides on this supposed knowlege. As the Times notes:
The assertion by NATO that the facility was involved in coordinating Kadafi's military attacks is an important one because, if true, it would make the compound a legitimate military target.
Again, the unnamed NATO officer said:
"We know to a great extent how the chain of command worked [past tense in original] and how they are controlling their attacks on innocent civilians [present tense in original]. This compound we attacked is a building that is involved in the command and control of attacks on civilians."
So if they know so much, why is there confusion over just where this building is? Again as above, the LA Times.
There also appeared to be conflicting versions as to the exact location of the strike.

NATO officials said a compound in an area of Tripoli called Bab Azizia, which has been bombed previously, was the target. Libyan officials, meanwhile, took journalists to a destroyed house in a different, wealthy residential area of Tripoli, Reuters news agency reported. At least three missiles hit that house.

State television showed scenes of heavy damage to a structure. Webs of reinforcing metal were seen hanging inside the damaged building, poking through chunks of concrete. Journalists and others were seen walking through the rubble and, at one point, handling what appeared to be a missile half-covered in dust and debris.
Why the disconnect? Or is there really one? This is the main question I'll return to later with more information. A map might help.
Further information:
Al Jazeera's live blog for May 1 provides a minute-by-minute timeline (be sure to double-check anything really critical where an anti-Gaddafi bias might slant things).

4:04 am Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from Tataouine in Tunisia, says the Libyans she's been talking to are not celebrating the reported death of Gaddafi's son.
"They simply don't believe this news," she says. "They think it's a rumour manufactured to make it seem that NATO has gone beyond its mandate".
Some elaborate hoax, if so. They blew up a whole separate building in a separate neighborhood. The Tripoli Post carried a nicely balanced and informative piece:
Seif al-Arab Al Qathafi, 29, was hosting a gathering of family and friends when three missiles struck his house just after 8 p.m., causing huge explosions that could be felt more than two miles away.

The Libyan leader and his wife, Safiyah, were also there, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said, describing the attack as an assassination attempt.
Ibrahim said the attack was neither permitted under international law nor morally justifiable, and that it contravened NATO’s mandate under Security Resolution 1973 to protect Libyan civilians. Intelligence about Al Qathafi’s whereabouts or plans must have been leaked to NATO, he said.

“We ask the world to look into this carefully, because what we have now is the law of the jungle,” he said. “How is this helping in the protection of civilians?’’

Hours earlier, Al Qathafi had called for a cease-fire and negotiations with NATO but refused to surrender power. Even as he spoke, alliance warplanes struck a government complex in the capital. Ibrahim said NATO’s response was proof that it was not interested in peace or in protecting civilians. “We renew our call for peace and negotiations,” he said.

Reporters were taken to the house in Tripoli’s upscale Gharghour neighbourhood. One building had been turned into a wreck of shattered concrete and twisted metal, with an unexploded missile lying in the rubble, and a huge crater that had unearthed what looked like an underground cellar or bunker.

The walls of an adjacent building were partly destroyed. In one room, a television was still turned on, and a pile of PlayStation games lay on a sofa, including Modern Warfare 2 and FIFA Soccer 10. A pair of Homer Simpson slippers was half buried in the dust.

Ibrahim did not identify the children who were killed but said they were all under 12 years old.
In Tripoli, Al Qathafi supporters took to the streets, waved the green flags of the regime and fired guns in the air. The crowd swelled at Bab al-Aziziyah, Al Qathafi’s compound, where hundreds of people gather every night to express their support for their leader and offer themselves as human shields.

Guns were also fired in the air in the eastern city of Benghazi, the de facto capital of the opposition, but in celebration rather than in defiance. Young men took to the streets, waving their arms in the air and displaying the flag of the opposition, the skies lit up with tracer fire.
A rebel spokesman said he knew that Al Qathafi would use the deaths to paint the NATO operation as a mission to kill him rather than save civilians. [...] “He’ll milk it for all he can,’’ said Jalal el Gallal, a rebel spokesman in Benghazi. “Now he knows how the Libyans feel and it’s a shame they didn’t get (Muammar Al Qathafi) . . . We need this to be over and done with and, frankly speaking, this is the easiest way.’’
At left is a useful image of the compound at Bab al-Aziziya and a map, from the UK telegraph. Below, right, a graphic I made showing the same areas highlighted - the embassies and the compound (named differently), plus the Ghargour neighborhood were Seif was killed nearly a mile away.

The BBC covered how the strike could backfire badly for NATO. It aslo claims a slight expansion of the C3 concept to C3I.
Third, and most important, air strikes began to target command, control, communications and intelligence networks (known, in military parlance, as C3I). The Bab al-Aziziya compound includes all three such networks, and it was presumed that their disruption would disorient regime soldiers on the front line, cut off field commanders from Tripoli, and sow confusion in the ranks.
[however], this is no longer a conventional war in which top-down direction is crucial. Pro-Gaddafi forces in both the besieged western city of Misrata and in the east have adapted to Nato's air power and are using increasingly unorthodox tactics.

They need not rely on a stream of detailed orders from Tripoli, and can cause considerable harm to civilians without this guidance.
The Guardian has photos of Libyan civilians (not the one's we're protecting) holding pictres of the slain son of their leader and looking rather sad. Others have gotten angry, and that's causing its own problems vis-a-vis embassies in Tripoli and fire safety. European concerns the out-of-line strike(s) backfired - or even will be perceived as such - have been quickly offset by this new Gaddafi violation. NATO's leaders seem to be using that to ensure the assassination attempt backfires against Tripoli even worse than against themselves.
Update, May 8:
A lot of details of the scene of the bombing. Everything about it, from the neighborhood to the pet deer killed outside suggests full residential use, we have some confirmation for Saif's death, and the children have been named, born to multiple Gaddafi children, all babies.
Officials said it killed 29-year-old Seif al-Arab Gadhafi, who had survived a 1986 U.S. airstrike on his father's Bab al-Aziziya residential compound. Also killed were 2-year-old Carthage, the daughter of Gadhafi's son Hannibal; six-month-old Mastura, daughter of Gadhafi's daughter Aisha; and 15-month-old Seif Mohammed, son of Gadhafi's son Mohammed.

Dr. Gerard Le Clouerec, a French orthopedic surgeon who runs a private clinic in Tripoli, inspected the bodies of an adult and two infants at Tripoli's Green Hospital on Sunday.

He told reporters that the adult's face was intact and that "in relation to a photo we have seen most probably was the son of Gadhafi." He said the adult had a thin mustache and a full beard.

The two children had been badly disfigured, the doctor said.

The complex targeted Saturday, hidden from view by blast walls and tall trees, contained three one-story buildings and a large yard with lawns, geranium flower beds, a woodshed, a swing and a table soccer game. A dead deer and a twisted bathtub lay on the debris-strewn grass.

A kitchen clock, knocked from the wall, had stopped a 8:08 and 45 seconds, the time of the explosion. Cooking pots with food, including stuffed peppers, noodles and a stew, had been left on the stove, covered with aluminum foil. Thick gray dust covered crates of onions and lemons in the pantry.

And American sources say Norway had a role in this notorious raid, which Norway's Defense Minister has not confirmed.

Some of the further reactions to the apparent assassination attempt are collected here.

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