A militiaman in Tripoli handles the wreckage of what appears to be a drone-fired missile. (Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post)

MISURATA, Libya — In the predawn darkness, the missile smashed through the cement wall. It shattered the leg of a mother, burned the feet of her 12-year-old daughter and forced the family from their home.

The weapon that tore their lives apart wasn’t launched by a fighter jet, tank or mortar — once the main culprits in Libya’s long history of conflicts. It was fired by a Chinese-made drone.

Eight months into Libya’s worst spasm of violence in eight years, the conflict is being fought increasingly by weaponized drones — and civilian casualties are mounting.

The United Nations blames airstrikes for the deaths of more than 60 percent of the 284 civilians killed since the eastern warlord Khalifa Hifter started his offensive to oust the U.N.-installed government from Tripoli in April. Recent drone attacks killed 12 members of a family, including 10 children, in southern Libya, and at least 10 people, mostly African migrants, in a biscuit factory in Tripoli, according to U.N. and Libyan officials. The assaults, U.N. officials and human rights activists say, could constitute war crimes. “The rockets from the drones are getting stronger,” said Gen. Mohammed Haddad, the top pro-government commander in Misurata. “Before, they did not go through concrete buildings.”




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