UK Politics

Who are the UK civilians in Libya?

Man paints Libyan flag on a checkpoint
Image caption It will take a long time to restore Libyan infrastructure following the conflict

The UK government is offering to send dozens of experts to Libya as soon as the fighting stops.

Deployable Experts, as they are known, will advise the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) on a range of issues from banking to telecommunications and healthcare.

The civilian staff work for the Stabilisation Unit, which is at the forefront of the government's effort to try to ensure that Libya moves quickly and peacefully from four decades of dictatorship to some kind of embryonic democracy.

The unit currently has just four people in Benghazi, with two other staff on the Libya/Tunisia border.

One is a former senior police officer, who has been meeting with NTC officials in Dubai. Another is a public finance expert. The others are there to give advice on humanitarian issues.

Rapid response

The Stabilisation Unit is a nebulous invention, funded by three government departments, each with a different but compatible interest in Britain's role abroad.

It is a key tool for furthering British interest often, but not always, in post-confllict zones. The Foreign Office, Department for International Development (DfID) and the Ministry of Defence all contribute. There is also a role for the Cabinet Office.

A rapid response team that went in during the first weeks of the military action back in March identified three key areas of need - food, water and electricity.

DfID said there were five longer term priorities for Libya post Gaddafi - an inclusive political settlement, basic service provision, infrastructure, ensuring security and the rule of law, restarting the economy.

The prime minister and other senior cabinet ministers have been at pains to emphasise this is primarily an effort for the people of Libya.

"This is not our revolution," said David Cameron, outside the steps of 10 Downing Street on Monday.

But the UK is ready to deploy dozens of British advisors to Libya the minute the violence stops - although the government has stressed though that this will be at the 'invitation" of the NTC.

'Golden hours'

Planning has been underway for months - this is what ministers have been constantly referring to as the 'lessons learned from Iraq" - but the period immediately after the fighting stops is crucial.

The "golden hours", as the former Bosnia High Representative Lord Ashdown called it, are what the Stabilisation Unit is most concerned with.

It's practical work, like ensuring all the right people know where the World Health Organisation stockpiles of medication are around Tripoli, or making sure the key players all have each other's mobile numbers.

Also, it involves providing enough logistical support, trucks mainly, to transport surviving mercenaries - who had been drafted in by Col Gaddafi - out of Libya and back to various African countries once they have no one left to fight for.

There are, of course, longer term diplomatic initiatives as well.

It's crucial to British interests that Libya develops in a way that means it can never again be a threat to UK security, but also so it can serve as an example of people power and the potential for the Arab Spring to progress beyond a season.


Much of the work done by the Stabilisation Unit until now has been focused on Afghanistan, but it is also involved in pre-emptive efforts, and this is where the more nuanced side to its work can be seen.

In recent months it has sent experts to help the government in another Middle Eastern country, which has not be hit by large-scale public protest, to work on youth engagement.

Some involved in the unit's work concede that there are suspicions, among both experts and those on the receiving end in friendly foreign governments, that it could be used as a cover for more secretive work.

It could also provide legitimate access on the ground - and at arms length - for government departments that may not be as well received, like the Foreign Office or MoD.

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