Defence chief 'to pave way' for 1,000 British troops to be sent to Libya
Senior defence officials will reportedly lay the ground to send 1,000 British troops to Libya during talks in Rome this week.
Claims that Britain was planning to send military personnel to the north African country emerged last month, after members of the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) were tipped off during a visit to Libya.
Air Vice Marshal Edward Stringer will fly to Italy this week to tell fellow commanders of the proposals to deploy the troops to help train the Libyan military defeat Islamic State, according to the Daily Mail.
The FAC said last month troops would operate in non-combat roles as trainers for the Libyan army and to provide security for the newly-formed ‘Government of National Accord’.
Italy had been assembling a non-combat force of 6,000 people, including French and British military personnel, to help train Libyan forces to tackle the Isis contingent in Libya.
A defence source told the Mail it is unclear whether the troops would be deployed to hostile areas: “It is not clear yet whether this would be behind the wire or not”.
FAC chair Crispin Blunt said sending over troops without a clear plan could exacerbate the turmoil in the north African country.
“The idea that you could put a training force of that size in the country and it would not be seen as Western intervention is the view of someone living on cloud cuckoo land,” he said.
“We would find ourselves a target for those who wish the West ill.
“Unless there is a clear policy objective explaining how troops would deliver the desired outcome, it will almost certainly make things worse.”
An MoD spokesperson said: “The UK continues to work with international partners on how best to support the new Libyan government.
“All planning has been focussed on training Libyan Security Forces to provide their own security to the Government and Libyan people.
“No decisions have been made about the future deployment of any British military forces.”
Air Vice Marshal Stringer is due to meet with his Italian and French counterparts this Thursday at a conference where they will discuss topics including Libya.
The Mail reports that the official offer of assistance will come at a later meeting.
It follows a period of confusion over the UK’s plans to provide further military assistance in Libya to the existing 100 British special forces in the region.
Last week Mr Blunt accused Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond of being “deliberately misleading” in his response to concerns British troops could be imminently deployed to Libya.
The FAC wrote to Mr Hammond following their visit to Libya where they were informed of the rumoured plans.
The Foreign Secretary responded by insisting the letter was “wrong on a number of counts”.
He denied the UK was “preparing to deploy ground troops to Libya”; and said “at no point did British diplomats” brief members of the committee to that effect.
Instead, Mr Hammond said the UK was still in “in discussions about a Libyan International Assistance Mission (LIAM)” and what role Britain would play in that.
Crispin Blunt, the FAC chairman and a Conservative MP, has hit out at Mr Hammond, accusing him of “not dealing straightforwardly with Parliament”.
Mr Blunt said the differentiation between preparing to deploy ground troops and considering how to assist LIAM was “immensely narrow”.