Libyan rebels paint vehicles pink to avoid NATO friendly fire

Laura Rozen
April 8, 2011

After Libyan rebel forces suffered their second deadly "friendly-fire" attack from NATO air strikes, rebel leaders have taken an unusual step in trying to protect themselves from their global protectors. Soldiers in the rebel campaign have now started to paint the roofs of their vehicles bright pink in order to alert NATO air forces that they are not allied with the Gadhafi regime--and therefore should not be singled out for attacks from the air. For its part, NATO's leadership today offered an grudging apology for accidentally killing at least four Libyan rebels in an air strike on Thursday.

At first, NATO had refused to apologize for its air strike on a Libyan rebel tank convoy en route to front lines in the oil-rich town of Brega. NATO officials said that no one had informed NATO forces that Libyan rebels were deploying tanks and characterized military conditions around the Brega operation as extremely volatile and confusing. "I am not apologizing," Rear Adm. Russell Harding, the British deputy commander of the NATO-led Libya air campaign told journalists in Naples Friday, according to the New York Times. "The situation on the ground was extremely fluid and remains extremely fluid, and until yesterday we did not have information."

But alliance leaders eventually reconsidered. In an interview with the BBC, British Foreign Secretary William Hague--a civilian leader whose authority formally outstrips Harding's in this context--did offer an apology, since a Libyan rebel commander had by then publicly insisted that the rebels had indeed communicated their plans to NATO.

In a news conference from the opposition stronghold of Benghazi Thursday, Libyan rebel commander Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes insisted that his forces had notified NATO of the tank convoy's movements.

In his BBC interview, Hague sought to smooth over the growing tensions between the NATO air command and the Libyan ground forces. Hague said he thought the incident was "deeply regrettable," and that it "doesn't cost anything" to apologize for the mistake.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered rebel forces have been forced to paint their vehicle roofs bright pink Friday as they tried to advance west from Ajdabiyah to avoid further errant friendly fire strikes, Reuters reported.

"Twice, they've hit us by accident now," rebel volunteer Belgassim Awamy complained to Reuters Friday.

"NATO is an alliance against the Libyan people," another rebel volunteer Alaa Senudry said.

An earlier NATO friendly fire incident last week accidentally killed 13 Libyan rebels including ambulance staff, near Brega.

(Libyan rebel fighters beat a hasty retreat from Ajdabiya after fears that pro-Gadhafi forces could use the disarray among rebel units following claimed airstrikes on them to advance, April 7, 2011.: Ben Curtis, AP)