For days, Libyan officials have declared that US-led airstrikes are leaving a trail of death and destruction, with more than 100 dead during a week of attacks that have given military advantage to anti-regime rebels.
Libyan state TV Sunday decried a “bombardment of the population.”
But little evidence of casualties – either civilian or military – has been presented for independent verification.
And Sunday night in Sirte, Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown and the last bastion that stands between the advancing rebels and the capital, Tripoli, foreign journalists were told that government forces had recaptured the pivotal city of Ajdabiya – an easily provable lie.
Such has been the mishandling of the truth by Mr. Qaddafi’s regime that there were few foreign journalists who believed what they saw on Friday, when taken to a rural site where an American missile struck a garden and damaged a house.
The episode illustrates the uphill battle Qaddafi loyalists face as they seek to convince the outside world of any fact that helps their cause.
Indeed, it now seems that an errant US missile did in fact hit the house. But it didn’t appear that way Friday.
Several elements at the scene, 20 miles east of Tripoli, appeared not to add up – and not just because people there gave differing accounts of who was hurt, if anyone at all.
The Monitor noted the apparent incongruities by suggesting the site “may have … been made to look more convincing with what appeared to be gunfire sprayed against some outside walls and white plaster thrown onto interior floors.”
Some news sources, subjected to weeks of official political theater, staged propaganda, and demonstrable lies since the uprising against Qaddafi began in mid-February, dismissed the entire scene as a fake government set-up.
Subsequent analysis by the Monitor, however, shows that the missile pieces put on display in the yard were from an American-made AGM-88 HARM missile – a high-speed antiradiation missile favored by military planners to knock out radar sites.
It was probably targeting nearby radar installations. There is one 1.9 miles to the northwest, which is one of many such facilities concentrated along Libya’s Mediterranean coastline that have been struck to create a UN-endorsed no-fly zone and “protect civilians” from Libyan forces.
Serial numbers and lettering showed the weapon as US-made. Among the remaining pieces of the missile were fins marked BSU-60 A/B, which are part of the HARM system.
That missile is four meters long and with a ten-inch diameter, and online photographs account for the remaining chunks found at the Libyan site, including a light-weight nose cone and another particular piece of shrapnel – a single belt of metal bolted around the halfway point on the missile.
The “bullet holes” in the wall are explained by how the AGM-88 HARM destroys its radar target: by using particular cube-shaped fragments that are smaller than bullets, which blast from the missile above the ground with a proximity fuse – not on impact.
Expert descriptions of how the HARM performs may help explain why the missile did not land on a radar site.
The HARM has “an unparalleled ability to home in on enemy [radar] emitters” and knock out air defense systems, according to GlobalSecurity.org. But unlike precision-guided weapons, they “cannot be steered and under certain conditions may not guide on the target that they were originally fired.”
Little of that was evident to the Libyan government minders at the scene, nor to the skeptical journalists who have learned that political stagecraft here is an art form.
To give just a couple recent examples:
* At a mass burial Thursday, Libyan Red Crescent workers unloaded 33 coffins for a public, made-for-TV spectacle that officials said was for victims of allied airstrikes. Hundreds of men and a handful of women prayed and chanted anti-Western slogans.
After the ceremony nearly half the coffins were taken away, ostensibly for burial elsewhere at the request of families.
But as shrouded bodies were removed from their coffins at the gravesite, one coffin was found to be empty. The rest were buried in graves originally prepared – but inexplicably never used – for another, separate funeral ceremony for supposed war victims, witnessed by journalists four days earlier.
* At the funeral Thursday, one of the most colorful characters was a man shouting slogans, waving a green flag with a child sitting on his shoulders who was holding a toy assault rifle. Later he was seen in the lobby of a five-star hotel where journalists are staying, hobnobbing with Libyan intelligence agents and minders tasked with monitoring journalists.
The man, who gave the name Osama Bin Salah, said he was a “taxi driver” whose Qaddafi-loving family was blown up by rebels in Misrata. Four days later he is still in the exclusive preserve of such a hotel, the type of which government officials have stated is “illegal” for ordinary people to enter.