The incident was one of those things once known as the “fortune of war”; except of course that the Libyan operation is not war. At best the bomb which reportedly killed Saif al-Arab Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s youngest son and his three grandchildren, might be called is the Fortunes of R2P. The Washington Post has a series of photographs showing the bomb impact and the bomb itself.
A NATO spokesman appeared to deny the Duck himself had been targeted. “‘We do not target individuals,’ said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. ”
The New York Times said the target was a military installation. The article further said that Khadaffi was reported to have been at the target, but survived. “A NATO official in Naples, Italy, reached by e-mail and responding on condition of anonymity, said that allied planners had not known Qaddafi family members were in the building that was attacked, which the official described as a command and control center. The official would not specify the nationality of the aircraft or pilots that carried out the strike. ”
The photos show the bomb itself to be a bunker-buster penetrator which did not detonate. Such bombs are made out of thick, hardened steel casings, sometimes converted from artillery tubes, and packed with explosive. One such weapon is the GBU-28, “built from modified 8 inch/203 mm artillery barrels (principally from deactivated M110 howitzers), but later examples were purpose-built”. It has a diameter of 14 inches and is used by the US and Israel.
Compare the photos of the projectile and the entries below with the video of the GBU-28 in action. They are not conclusively the same, but they are the same type of ordnance.
Compare this to the way it should have worked below. If the fuse had worked properly then Khadaffy would probably not have survived.
From an analysis of the pictures in the Washington Post Gallery, it is plain that the bomb went through living quarters in what appears to be an underground space. You can see furniture, water pipes and other residential fixtures in location otherwise resembling an underground parking garage.
Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard was probably speaking the truth, at least technically, when he said “We do not target individuals”. The target struck appeared to have the physical signature of a bunker. It wasn’t a frame house with a picket fence. But the reality is that individuals, including the families of high ranking regime figures, probably live in and among bunkers. That is not unusual. Nearly all the leaders of major countries have protected underground facilities of some sort from which they may continue to fight under bombardment. Winston Churchill bunked underground during the Second World War and his bedroom is now part of an exhibit.
And when bunkers get hit the occupants perish without distinction. The truth is that the families of enemy leaders die during a time of war. It is often unavoidable. But therein lies the difficulty of current Libyan operation. There is ostensibly no campaign for regime change; no enemy; there is not even a war on; not even a reference to Congress. But at the same time the armed forces of the NATO countries are being asked to achieve what amounts to war aims without either legal cover of belligerence nor the resources customarily allotted to it. They have to look for knockout blow on the cheap, not in the name of victory, but in the name of humanitarian action of all things.
This sets up a mismatch between means and consequences. The disadvantage of “kinetic military action” in the service of R2P is that it has all the consequences and gore of what used to be called war without the strategic clarity or protections of process. What happens if the Duck strikes back at the families of Western leaders? Is that an act of war? Or is that so yesterday?