BENGHAZI, Libya – Four Libyan rebel fighters were killed in airstrikes Thursday that the opposition’s top general blamed on NATO.
The incident followed the death of 13 rebels last weekend when a NATO warplane mistakenly opened fire on rebel fighters, according to the rebel’s military command. The latest episode elicited frustration from the opposition’s leaders, who accused the West of not moving aggressively to stop Moammar Gadhafi’s forces as they besiege cities and advance on the opposition’s battle positions.
The strikes occurred at 10:30 a.m. after the rebels moved 20 tanks to the front line in their battle to retake the refinery city of Brega, a key coastal installation that the fighters lost a week ago.
“People are asking us who we think bombed our tanks. We would assume it was the NATO by mistake, (by) friendly fire,” said Gen. Abdelfatah Younis.
At least four people were killed, including two medics, Younis said. Four tanks were badly damaged, but Younis said the rebels had 400 tanks.
After the airstrikes, Gadhafi’s forces advanced toward the city of Ajdabiya, but rebel forces drove them back to Brega, Younis said. He demanded to know why NATO had not targeted Gadhafi’s fighters before they retreated, and he said he wanted an explanation for the day’s events.
“We are not questioning the intention of NATO, because they should be here to help us and the civilians, but we would like to receive some answers regarding what happened today,” Younis said.
NATO said it was looking into the alleged airstrikes. It said the fighting in that area has been fierce for several days and “the situation is unclear and fluid with mechanized weapons traveling in all directions.”
NATO took command of the operation from the U.S. military last week after American, British and French airstrikes stopped Gadhafi’s troops from advancing on the opposition’s capital, Benghazi.