At first, Libyan rebels who've been pleading for more help from NATO in battling Moammar Gadhafi's forces were hesitant to even admit the deaths from Wednesday's NATO airstrike in Misrata. But as the bodies piled up, rebel commanders acknowledged that they believe NATO mistakenly fired on their men. NATO said it was looking into the claim.
A grieving rebel commander, Abdullah Mohammed, gave The New York Times a slightly different location for the NATO airstrike, saying it targeted a salt factory where rebels had taken refuge from attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces. Mohammed said the rebels moved into the salt factory on Tuesday and informed NATO of their location. They were still inside when a NATO warplane attacked the following day.
"We stayed in exactly the same place," Mohammed said. "And they hit it."
He put the death toll at 12, with five others wounded.
Mohammed and other survivors were initially afraid to discuss what happened with Wednesday's NATO airstrike, for fear that allied forces might pull back from Misrata. Libyan rebels have long complained of a lack of support from NATO forces, which have been careful not to use too much firepower in areas where civilians live. But NATO airstrikes have picked up in recent days.
Meanwhile, Washington has increased its financial support to the rebels, who hold huge swaths of eastern Libya. The U.S. Treasury moved Wednesday to permit oil deals with the Benghazi-based main opposition council, which is struggling to provide funding to rebels battling Gadhafi's forces across the country, Reuters reported.
Wednesday's NATO airstrike isn't the first time allied warplanes have mistakenly targeted Libyan rebels. Earlier this month, NATO acknowledged that its warplanes hit a rebel convoy in eastern Libya, killing at least four people.