American Crime Case #35: The 2011 U.S.-NATO War on Libya

Bob Avakian has written that one of three things that has “to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better: People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.” (See “3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better.”)

In that light, and in that spirit, “American Crime” is a regular feature of Each installment focuses on one of the 100 worst crimes committed by the U.S. rulers—out of countless bloody crimes they have carried out against people around the world, from the founding of the U.S. to the present day.

See all the articles in this series.




In February 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, sections of Libyan society rose up against Muammar Qaddafi’s oppressive, 42-year-long rule. The Qaddafi regime responded by violently suppressing the protests. In this context, at the insistence of the U.S., France, and Britain, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, giving the UN authority to militarily intervene in Libya. The UN resolution called for a humanitarian effort to save the lives of pro-democracy protesters endangered by Qaddafi’s forces who were threatening to bomb their stronghold in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city. Within 48 hours, the U.S. and other NATO countries established a “no-fly zone” throughout Libya and started bombing Qaddafi’s forces. For the next seven months, 19 NATO countries carried out massive military operations throughout Libya. They deployed aircraft carriers with warplanes, amphibious warships, torpedo jets, surveillance planes, submarines, and U.S. missile-armed Predator drones. Though the bulk of the bombings and killings were carried out by the U.S., Britain, France, and Canada, at its peak the war involved 21 NATO ships and more than 250 aircraft of all types. Over 8,000 U.S. military personnel took part and U.S. aircraft bombed Libya 14,202 times. These aerial attacks included B-2 stealth bombers that were each armed with 16 2,000-pound bombs.



Tripoli, Libya; residential building damaged during seven months of U.S./NATO bombing of Libya in 2011.    Photo: AP

NATO bombs killed Qaddafi’s forces, but they also took the lives of many civilians, including women and children. On May 14, one NATO bomb killed 11 religious leaders and wounded 50 others who had gathered for Friday prayers in Brega. On August 9, a NATO aerial bomb struck Libyan state TV, Al-Jamahiriya, killing three journalists and wounding several others. Ordinary Libyans were also killed, like Karima, her husband, and their children, Jomana, age two and Khaled, age seven months. Eight of their other family members were wounded.

The U.S./NATO forces declared Libya’s “liberation” in October 2011. Anti-Qaddafi militia had captured and killed Qaddafi, shattered the central government, and established a “National Transitional Council” (NTC). While there had been an estimated 1,000 killed before the start of the NATO invasion, by October estimates were that 10,000 to 30,000 had died. That included soldiers and civilians killed by the UN-sanctioned war, and also large numbers of atrocities carried out by the militia backed by the U.S., Britain, and France which had carried out mass abductions, detentions, torture, and killings—500 in just a two-month period. During this same period, African migrants and black Libyans were subjected to a racist campaign that included mass detention, lynchings, and other atrocities, justified by the claim they were mercenaries of Qaddafi’s regime.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN called the toppling of Qaddafi’s regime a “model intervention.” And Britain declared to the UN in 2012, “Today, Tripoli and Benghazi are cities transformed. Where there was fear, now there is hope and an optimism and belief that is truly inspiring,” But in fact in the years since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, Libya has been plunged into a state of chaos, and the lives of millions of Libyans have been shattered.

The NTC was never able to consolidate authority over its rivals in other cities and the patchwork of hundreds of Islamist and tribal militias battling each other in the streets for power. Three years after the overthrow of Qaddafi, Libya had become a place of assassinations, kidnappings, blockades of oil refineries, and ISIS and other Islamist extremists setting up camps, with this instability spilling across Libya’s borders.

Britain was now warning its citizens “against all travel to Libya due to the ongoing fighting and greater instability throughout the country.” And Reuters reported at the end of November that 400 people had just been killed in six weeks of heavy fighting between Libyan pro-government forces and Islamist groups in Benghazi.

For the masses of Libyan people life has been a nightmare. The economy and public services have been decimated, including the public health system. In 2015, it was revealed that NATO forces had targeted civilian infrastructure, especially water supplies during their 2011 attacks, while blaming the damage on Qaddafi. A third of Libya’s people remain impoverished, and many do not have access to clean water or sewer systems, and are forced to struggle to meet their basic needs and survive.

By 2016, it was estimated that nearly 2.44 million people—a third of Libya’s population—had been impacted by these reactionary conflicts. There are now shortages of food, water, and electricity. People often can’t get medicines, public services, or medical care—even though in the summer of 2015 the UN estimated that 2.5 million Libyans did not have any access to health care and some 400,000 needed food aid. This nightmare has driven nearly a half a million Libyans from their homes—forcing people to live in garages, public spaces, shelters, or unfinished buildings.

For years Libya’s location as the North African country closest to Europe made it a major hub for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants from countries in that part of the world on their way to Europe. In the first 10 months of 2017, most of the more than 160,000 people coming to Europe by sea had departed from Libya; and 2,772 died or went missing trying to cross. It was reported that nearly 350,000 migrants and asylum seekers remained in Libya.

The same NATO powers that attacked Libya in 2011 were now training and supporting Libya’s coast guard in its effort to capture migrants and asylum seekers in international waters and return them to Libya where they would be exposed to physical abuse, including beatings, sexual violence, extortion, abduction, and forced labor. In May 2017, Al Jazeera reported, “Migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity. Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger.” In November, after revelations of alleged “slave auctions,” Rwanda offered to resettle 30,000 African “slaves” from Libya.

Amnesty International’s report “Libya 2017-2018” said, “Three rival governments and hundreds of militias and armed groups continued to compete for power and control over territory, lucrative trade routes and strategic military locations.... All sides to the conflict carried out indiscriminate attacks in heavily populated areas leading to deaths of civilians and unlawful killings.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is carrying out air strikes against supposed ISIS forces in Libya.

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Bringing Forward Another Way by Bob Avakian   

Bringing Foward Another Way is an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian to a group of Party supporters, in 2006. It is must reading for a serious understanding of what the U.S. "war on terror" is really about and how to bring forward a positive force in the world in opposition to both Western imperialism and Islamic Jihad.

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President Barack Obama: Took full credit for the war on Libya, the capture and murder of Qaddafi, and the destruction of the government. After Qaddafi was killed, Obama said, “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives.”

Hillary Clinton: As secretary of state, Clinton played a key role in convincing Obama to join the British and the French who were pressing the UN to establish a “no fly zone” over Libya and start bombing. She argued the U.S. must not wait but should strike right away. When NTC forces captured, tortured, and murdered Qaddafi, Clinton laughed on TV, saying, “We came, we saw, he died.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and U.S. aide on the UN Security Council Samantha Power: Both these officials, who claim to be champions of “human rights,” urged Obama to attack Libya.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the U.S. military forces: Responsible for leading the military in achieving U.S. objectives in Libya, Gates said to the New York Times in 2016, “The fiction was maintained [that] ... the goal was limited to disabling Colonel Qaddafi’s command and control,” but he admitted, “I don’t think there was a day that passed that people didn’t hope he would be in one of those command and control centers.”

Leading NATO imperialist powers: Britain under David Cameron, France under Nicolas Sarkozy, Canada under Stephen Harper, and Italy under Silvio Berlusconi and their military commanders, pilots, and troops, especially Canada’s Lt. General Charles Bouchard, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, and Lt. General Ralph Jodice who led the military assault on Libya called Operation United Protector.

All other NATO countries and allies (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain) as well as the United Arab League (Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates), and Sweden—whose armed forces and politicians ganged up together in this assault on Libya.

Ban-Ki Moon, UN General Secretary, and the full UN Security Council: The 10 members (U.S., Britain, Italy, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Columbia, Portugal, Nigeria, South Africa, France) who voted for Resolution 1973 that authorized the imperialists’ invasion of Libya with a cover of “humanitarian intervention”; and the five members (Brazil, China, Russia, Germany, India) who refused to use their veto powers to prevent it.




Obama insisted his goal in Libya was not “regime change” but a humanitarian intervention: “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”


In the name of protecting Libyan civilians, the U.S. and its NATO allies seized on the conflict in Libya to wage a war for regime change. For them, the Libyan uprising presented both the need and opportunity to remove Qaddafi from power and install a neocolonial regime that would be a more pliant tool to advance their interests in a region where Western imperialism was—and is—under all kinds of pressure, and faces all kinds of challenges from rival imperialists, as well as ISIS.

Libya is Africa’s fourth-largest country, strategically located in North Africa and neighboring Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. It is a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean routes from Africa to Europe and the whole Middle East. With a small population of about six million and the largest proven oil reserves of any African country, along with gold reserves, Libya has been one of the richest countries in Africa. And it has supplied a large share of Europe’s oil needs.

For many years, Qaddafi was a thorn in the side of imperialism, especially the U.S. Despite his anti-imperialist/Pan Africanist rhetoric, Qaddafi presided over an oppressive social and economic order, and his program of enacting certain economic and social reforms was based on expanding Libya’s oil-based economy.

When he allied Libya with the then-imperialist Soviet Union in the early 1980s, the U.S. demonized him as a “strongman despot” and Reagan tried to have him assassinated. In 2004, Qaddafi announced that he was giving up various nuclear and other weapons programs. The U.S. took Libya off its list of “terrorist states,” and Qaddafi became an ally in the U.S. “war against terrorism,” which in reality was a war for empire. But, with the Arab Spring spreading, the U.S. and its NATO allies saw the opportunity to replace his regime with one more directly under their control in such a valuable and strategic part of the world, as well as to intervene and impact the course of the Arab Spring overall.

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