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British Lawmakers Condemn 2011 Intervention in Libya

A committee of British lawmakers issued a damning assessment on Wednesday of the 2011 intervention in Libya led by Britain and France, concluding that the military action had lacked a coherent strategy, had been based on poor intelligence and had led to a political collapse that aided the rise of the Islamic State in North Africa.

The report from the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons directly blamed the former prime minister, David Cameron, saying he "was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy."

In echoing many criticisms from another inquiry, published this year, into Britain's role in the Iraq war under one of Mr. Cameron's predecessors, Tony Blair, the report suggested that lessons from that conflict had not been learned.

Fearing civilian deaths, an international coalition assembled by Britain and France launched air and missile strikes in March 2011, after Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces threatened to attack the rebel-held city of Benghazi.

Libya descended into chaos, and a power vacuum ensued after the Qaddafi government collapsed, allowing fighters for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, to gain a significant foothold in the country, and the report suggested that Britain had lost interest in the country after Colonel Qaddafi lost power.

The mission represented a significant shift from the Iraq war, with Britain and France assuming the main leadership role — Mr. Cameron had pressed for military action alongside the French president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy — and the United States taking an active, but less visible, role.

In many ways, the report mirrored the assessment of President Obama, who offered a candid appraisal of the intervention in an interview published in The Atlantic this year. "It didn't work," Mr. Obama said, citing what he described as his misplaced faith that "the Europeans" in general would be invested in the follow-up. He also said that Mr. Cameron had soon become "distracted by other things" and that Mr. Sarkozy had been voted out of office the next year.

The report by the 11-person committee, which included six lawmakers from Mr. Cameron's Conservative Party, criticized the British strategy as flawed from its inception, concluding that it "was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence."

There had been, they said, no thorough assessment of the nature of the rebellion in Libya or of the real threat to civilians. Nor, they added, had there been any attempt at political engagement with the government, leaving military intervention as the sole focus.

"By the summer of 2011, the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change," the lawmakers said.

The consequence of the military action was "political and economic collapse, intermilitia and intertribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Qaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa," the lawmakers said.

The document quoted a former defense secretary, Liam Fox, now the international trade secretary, as arguing, in evidence to the committee, that decisions had been motivated by a fear of a massacre of civilians, similar to ones that took place during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Lawmakers noted that, when asked whether he was aware of any assessment of the extent to which the rebellion involved militant Islamist elements, Mr. Fox had replied that he did not "recall reading anything of that nature."

The report was sharply critical of the intervention on that point. "The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight," the authors wrote. "Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda."

Mr. Cameron declined to give evidence to the committee's inquiry in March 2016, citing "the pressures on his diary" and pointing out that other ministers had done so.

His supporters argued that there had been risks in refusing to intervene, as demonstrated subsequently by the West's inaction over Syria. In a statement, the Foreign Office said that Colonel Qaddafi had been "unpredictable and he had the means and motivation to carry out his threats," and that "his actions could not be ignored and required decisive and collective international action."

Emily Thornberry, who speaks for the opposition Labour Party on foreign affairs, said in a statement that "far from learning the lessons from Iraq, David Cameron had in fact repeated all the major mistakes again in Libya, and with the same catastrophic consequences."

[Source: By Stephen Castle, International New York Times, London, 14Sep16]

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Libya War
small logoThis document has been published on 28Sep16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.