Rear Admiral Harding talks to reporters during a media briefing at NATO's Southern Europe Headquarters in Naples
A high-ranking NATO official said he will not apologize for a missile attack near Adjabiya in eastern Libya that accidentally killed at least four rebels in a tragic case of “friendly fire.”
Other reports claim that more were actually killed, with many dozens injured.
This is at least the third such incident since NATO has assumed command of the Libyan air campaign.
"It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in the deaths of a number of [rebel] forces who were operating main battle tanks," said Rear Admiral Russ Harding, NATO's deputy commander of operations, in a press conference in Naples, Italy.
"I'm not apologizing. The situation on the ground, as I said, was extremely fluid and remains extremely fluid. Up until yesterday, we had no information that the... opposition forces were using tanks. Our role is to protect civilians. Tanks have been used in the past to directly target civilians."
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According to BBC, Harding’s comments directly contradicted statements made by rebel chief General Abdelfatah Yunis who claimed that NATO was informed that rebels were now using tanks.
Yunis also said NATO apologized to the rebels about the accidental killings, although not directly to him.
He added that rebel forces have 400 tanks and will acquire more.
Yunis has called on NATO officials to provide a "rational and convincing explanation" about what really happened,
While rebel leaders have expressed anger over the deaths, they insist it will not jeopardize their relation with western coalition forces.
However, Harding said he does not agree with the assertion recently made by U.S. General Carter Ham (who spearheaded the first stage of the coalition military campaign in Libya) that the conflict has deteriorated into a stalemate and that Libyan rebels will not be able to beat Gaddafi’s troops.
"If someone wants to define that as a stalemate that's fine, all I'm saying is that yes, it's fluid, but it's fluid in a relatively small area," he said.
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