Ministers have not learned Libya lessons, say MPs

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A photo of Muammar Gaddafi is destroyed in 2011Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
The MPs said the government appeared not to have learned the lessons about the 2011 intervention in Libya

The UK government appears not to have learned the lessons from its 2011 Libya intervention, say MPs.

Chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, Crispin Blunt, said ministers' response was "troubling", as he believed similar mistakes could be made in future.

In September, the committee said the UK had lacked a coherent strategy and intelligence had not been "accurate".

But the government disagreed, saying the coalition's actions saved lives.

An international coalition led by Britain and France launched a campaign of air and missile strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in March 2011 after the regime threatened to attack the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

But after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya descended into violence, with rival governments and the formation of hundreds of militias.

And so-called Islamic State, also known as Isil and Daesh, gained a foothold.

In its report in September, the foreign affairs committee criticised David Cameron, prime minister at the time, saying he had been ultimately responsible for failing to develop a coherent Libya strategy.

It said UK strategy was based on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence and ministers should have foreseen that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion.

'Inadequate plans for stabilisation'

But Conservative MP Mr Blunt said the MPs on his committee "do not accept that it understood the implications" of intervening in Libya - including the rise of Islamist extremism.

He said its response had failed to "work through the logic" of the evidence heard by the committee and was "yet to appreciate the lessons from our experience in Libya including our lack of country knowledge amongst those drafting and deciding policy".

"This is troubling, because Libya should inform the development of future UK foreign policy," he said, adding there should have been a "robust process of self-examination in government to improve future performance".

"I believe we are about to repeat the failure to have adequate plans and resources for stabilisation in Mosul. Libya should have taught us these lessons."

He also urged the PM to "reconsider" the committee's calls for members of the National Security Council (NSC) who are not politicians - for example the chief of the defence staff - to be able to ask for written instructions from the PM when asked to do something "contrary to their professional judgement", rather than leaving them "to emerge in conversations with historians".

The government rejected that idea.

In its response, the government said it did not agree with the foreign affairs committee report conclusion that no proper analysis of the rebellion or threat posed by the Gaddafi regime was carried out.

Gaddafi 'unpredictable'

"Real-time and evolving military, intelligence and diplomatic assessments gave ministers an understanding of the detailed context in which to take strategic decisions, as well as identifying areas where further information was needed..." it said.

"Muammar 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 actions of the UK and the Coalition undoubtedly saved the lives of innocent Libyan civilians."

Former PM David Cameron told MPs in January that he had to take action in Libya because Gaddafi "was bearing down on people in Benghazi and threatening to shoot his own people like rats".

But the foreign affairs committee's original report found that the government "failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated", adding that it "selectively took elements of Gaddafi's rhetoric at face value".

The government also failed to identify the "militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion", the MPs said and allowed a planned intervention to protect civilians to drift into an opportunist policy of regime change.

"That policy was not underpinned by a strategy to support and shape post-Gaddafi Libya.

"The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil in North Africa."

Timeline: Libya conflict

Image source, Reuters

February 2011 - Violent protests break out in Benghazi and spread to other cities. This leads to civil war, foreign intervention and eventually the ousting and killing of Gaddafi in August.

March 2011 - UK parliament approves British participation for military intervention alongside a coalition of nations, including France and the US.

2014 - Militants from so-called Islamic State claim responsibility for several attacks in Libya towards to the end of the year, as the US finds evidence that the group is setting up training camps.

2016 - Following years of conflict, a new UN-backed "unity" government is installed in a naval base in Tripoli. It faces opposition from two rival governments and a host of militias.

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