March 24th, 2011


First casualties? (cont from 23.3)

Further to yesterday's entry, the BBC reports a briefing at which the chief of staff for the United States' mission 'insisted there have been no civilian casualties'. 

It depends on what you mean by civilian casualties. Presumably, the U.S. is suggesting that there have been no casualties caused as a direct result of airstrikes. As Al Jazeera points out, there have been civilian casualties in the fighting on the ground. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise. And Washington will probably be less pleased with CNN's headline referring to the uncertainty over the military campaign's final aims. The Economist's new blog on defence, security, and diplomacy, Clausewitz, suggests the whole situation is moving 'into the unknown'.

Hence this emphasis from London and from Washington on the lack of civilian casualties.

Until and unless the Libyan authorities can produce evidence of the civilian deaths which their state media have apparently been reporting, this is a very safe line for counties involved in the coalition to promote. It means they have to address fewer of the awkward questions which this conflict seems increasingly to be raising. It is important that news organizations keep asking them.