Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

PM Saw Doubts over Libya as Unhelpful, Says Ex-Forces Chief

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

PM Saw Doubts over Libya as Unhelpful, Says Ex-Forces Chief

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Cecil Deputy Political Editor

BRITAIN'S National Security Council must be reformed to stop the Prime Minister being able to order military action without being "robustly" challenged, an ex-defence chief said today. Lord Richards, head of the armed forces during the 2011 military intervention in Libya, said both he and the then-MI6 boss Sir John Sawers, had doubts over whether toppling dictator Muammar Gaddafi was in Britain's "vital national interest".

But when he raised his concerns, including over the legality of the British action, he was seen as "unhelpful".

The swift ousting of Colonel Gaddafi by rebels after Anglo-French intervention was widely hailed as a success. But Libya then plunged into inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, the economy collapsed, a migrant crisis escalated and Islamic State gained a stronghold.

In a new report, the Commons foreign affairs committee has strongly criticised David Cameron, saying he was "ultimately responsible" for the failure to form a "coherent Libya strategy".

In comments echoing the verdict of the Chilcot report on Tony Blair and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the MPs concluded Britain's intervention in Libya was not informed by "accurate intelligence" and was based on "erroneous assumptions" and an "incomplete understanding" of the uprising. Limited air and missile strikes to protect civilians in Benghazi turned into an "opportunist policy of regime change" while failing to recognise the threat to the city was "overstated" and the rebels included a "significant Islamist element", the report said.

Lord Richards said the Government was united behind action to safeguard civilians as Gaddafi's forces swept towards Benghazi but there was some division over regime change. "Whether it was in our vital national interest to intervene is a matter for debate," he told BBC radio. He described the National Security Council as "a little bit too neat" in the way it operates and the intelligence on Libya as "very hazy". …

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