NATO hits radar at Tripoli’s civilian airport


From AP: NATO warplanes destroyed the radar antenna at Tripoli International Airport on Monday, the alliance said, claiming the system was being used for military purposes by Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

A statement said the air traffic control radar at the civilian airport was tracking NATO jets and the providing information to Libyan air defenses. "The antenna, which was previously used for civilian air traffic control, was being used by pro-Gadhafi forces to track NATO air assets in the airspace over Tripoli and to coordinate their own air defense early warning system," the statement said.
NATO, which has bombed dozens of military radar sites in the four-month war, said the no-fly zone over Libya made it unnecessary to use the radar for civilian purposes.
NATO, which has no ground forces in Libya, does not say whether its air raids result in casualties.
The alliance has been criticized repeatedly for allegedly overstepping the limited U.N. Security Council mandate that allowed it to launch the airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces. The council imposed a ban on all flights and approved the use of "all measures" to prevent attacks on civilians. Because of technical limitations, it is difficult to convert civilian radar to target aircraft in the same way as military radars. But civilian radar can be used to monitor the airspace and provide general information on the speed and altitude of intruders.
A NATO official argued this made the antenna a legitimate military target.  "There is no requirement for pro-Gadhafi forces to coordinate the airspace as the airspace, and all air traffic flow has been effectively coordinated by NATO since the start of the implementation of the no-fly zone," said the official, on condition of anonymity because of standing rules. "NATO has and continues to control Libyan airspace in order to ensure the safe entrance of all legitimate humanitarian and diplomatic flights entering Libya," he said.
The Convention on International Civil Aviation — also known as the Chicago Convention — forbids attacks on civilian planes or airports. In recent conflicts, the warring sides have generally refrained from attacking radars and other navigational aids. But a leading analyst said the rule was sometimes disregarded because of suspicions that this equipment was being covertly used for military purposes, as during the Serb shelling of Sarajevo airport in the Bosnian war and Israel’s airstrikes against Beirut airport in 2006. "Technically it is against international law to go against civilian navigational facilities," said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, a group that promotes aviation safety worldwide. "But the case can sometimes be made that they are not really civilian."

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