The death of civilians in a war zone, such as Libya is today, is always sad. It is also unavoidable, even with the best intentions to confine combat to the combatants. Just as the finest city planners can't control the carnage that can happen in traffic accidents at what we like to think are controlled intersections, military strategists can not always control the path that a misguided missile or bomb might take. Accidents, by definition, just happen, and the most we can hope for is to reduce their frequency.
Such an accident may or may not have happened in Libya this week. The government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi claims that 15 civilians were killed in an air strike by NATO warplanes. Although that has not been confirmed by the coalition, it is not beyond the realm of possibility, even taking into account the truth that Col. Gadhafi can produce any number of bodies of any age, sex or size to suit his purpose of the moment.
That there has been a civilian death toll resulting from the NATO involvement in Libya is not in dispute. Col. Gadhafi's claim, however, has exacerbated anxieties that already existed within the NATO alliance that the United Nations authorized a no-fly zone over Libya to protect that country's citizens from the atrocities committed by its megalomaniacal leader.
Faltering members of the alliance are using this as justification for their apparently imminent withdrawal. Even some Canadians, who have a huge military investment in the Libyan operation, are now expressing doubts.
Ending the operation, however, is not a useful option. It would simply mean that civilians who died have died in vain, as Col. Gadhafi resumes his dictatorship and exacts his revenge upon the rebels. Civilian casualties in Libya are martyrs, not victims. It is a Canadian responsibility to stay the course and to ensure that they were not martyred for no purpose.