Britain on the defensive over 'failed Libya intervention'

Britain on the defensive over 'failed Libya intervention'
The British government has hit back at criticism of its strategy in Libya following a damning assessment that its intervention against Gaddafi led to the current violence and instability.
2 min read
25 November, 2016
NATO-led intervention in Libya led to regime change without UN authorisation [Getty file photo]

The British government has defended its intervention in Libya, claiming it saved civilian lives and weakened the Islamic State group's presence in the country.

The government's comments follow a September report which criticised Westminster's strategy following the 2011 uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi as "based on erroneous assumptions and incomplete understanding of the evidence".

But in its response on Friday, the government argued its actions "undoubtedly" saved civilian lives in Libya.

"Gaddafi was unpredictable and had the means and motivation to carry out his threats. His actions could not be ignored, and required decisive and collective international action," the government said in its written response.

The 2011 bombing campaign came after Gaddafi loyalists pounded the eastern city of Benghazi, raising fears of an imminent massacre in the rebel stronghold.

Britain was criticised by the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee for expanding its mission to protect civilians to a policy of regime change, which it claims has directly led to the current violence and instability.

It also accused MPs of overstating the threat Gaddafi presented to civilians in Benghazi.

"Our objective remained clear at all times: to protect civilians and to promote stability in Libya," the government argued, adding that it was "entirely appropriate" to target military sites after the Gaddafi regime failed to implement a ceasefire.

The UK's then prime minister, David Cameron, was blamed in the report as "ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy".

Read more: Which MPs voted for and against intervention?

He declined to give evidence to the committee, which heard evidence from former defence minister Liam Fox and former prime minister Tony Blair.

The government confirmed Blair had spoken to Gaddafi and said such efforts for a political solution "were unable to make progress", dismissing the committee's claim that the government should have made better use of the direct line of communication.

Gaddafi was ousted and killed seven months after the intervention.

Five years later, Libya is run by two rival administrations and remains embroiled in violence including the presence of IS.

Defending its decision-making, the government said the vast majority of people opposed to Gaddafi were not linked to extremism and claimed IS was losing ground.

"Daesh are now on the back foot in Libya," the government said, using the Arabic acronym for the group.