The use of precision aerial bombing during modern warfare has the potential to spare cultural property as never before. To be effective, however, no-strike lists should be made available to military operation planners, and especially targeting experts, who must be willing (or convinced) to incorporate the information into their targeting plans. No-strike lists normally include hospitals, religious buildings, educational establishments and cultural sites.
The effective use of the Libya no-strike list by NATO has been widely publicized. USCBS and its international partners continue to create cultural heritage inventory lists for other countries where it is anticipated that military operations might take place in the future. After these operations have been completed, we will announce the use of these lists as appropriate.
In March 2011, hostilities broke out in Libya that finally escalated to the point that NATO undertook a campaign of aerial strikes and the enforcement of a no-fly zone. Because of the possibility that one or more of the World Heritage sites in Libya might suffer damage during the conflict, on 14 June 2011, UNESCO called on all of the warring parties to protect two sites in particular, the Old Town of Ghadamès and Leptis Magna (“UN cultural agency calls on Libyans and NATO to protect heritage sites”).
Even earlier, shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, USCBS began to collect coordinates of important archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives and other important cultural and historical sites by contacting archaeologists and those familiar with Libyan cultural heritage, including members of Blue Shield committees outside the U.S. Initially the list was sent by USCBS to the Special Assistant to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters and by the COCOM Cultural Heritage Action Group (CCHAG) to the USAF/Air Combat Command. Finally, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World of New York University (NYU) collated the data and prepared the list that was sent to the Department of Defense (DoD). Once the list had been forwarded to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), a Department of Defense (DoD) combat support agency, the data could be entered into their targeting computer and thus shared with NATO. Because all of this took place before the No-Fly Zone was instituted, NATO was able to prevent serious damage to Libya’s cultural sites, even though some of them were in close proximity to areas targeted during its aerial campaign. NATO’s mission in Libya, one of the most successful air campaigns in the history of the Alliance, ended on 31 October 2011.
For information on the Libya No-Strike List and the names of those involved in its formulation, see Joris D. Kila, “The Initiative for a Cultural No Strike List. Concerning Libya and the Casus of the Roman Ras Almergib Fort,” and Joris Kila and James Zeidler eds., Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict, pp. 24-25 »