Friday, 22 October 2021
Up-to-the-minute perspectives on defence, security and peace
issues from and for policy makers and opinion leaders.

     |      View our Twitter page at     |     

A Falklands veteran who was working on a clean water project in Libya, a Cardiff contracts manager and a couple of Yorkshire teachers has thanked the Royal Navy for their safe rescue.

Mike Wilson, 61, was among the 207 exhausted civilians delivered to Malta on Saturday by HMS Cumberland.

The former sailor from Stamshaw in Portsmouth, Hampshire made his way from Brega in the desert south of Libya to meet the British warship in Benzaghi.
He said: "I can't speak highly enough of how we were treated and cared for in getting out of Libya.

"It was a very dangerous situation which was escalating and all of us onboard were glad to be rescued."

Mr Wilson was working on the Great Man Made River project in the town of Brega. Dozens of British workers have been involved in building a pipeline from a giant underground water source to the rest of Libya.

He said: "It's a really important programme for the people and it's a real shame that we have had to come out. But we were getting reports about looting and militias and it was best to get out of there."

Mr Wilson travelled north by car past fighting factions in Libya, and spent more than 30 hours in HMS Cumberland as she crossed rough seas to Malta.

He said: "I served in HMS Broadsword which was a frigate that was in the 1982 Falklands conflict. The seas in the South Atlantic are renowned for being choppy and dramatic but this was just the same as back then.

"We were in a small Junior Rates mess room and there were several people who were ill. But it was fine given the situation we were leaving and we're very happy to be safe.

"We were in a compound of buildings back in the desert and we had looters trying to get in, armed with knives.

"It was potentially terrifying situation and it's sad for Libya, where I've been for three years."

Mr Wilson's son David is in the Royal Navy and serves on HMS Illustrious and his other son Mark is an army corporal based in Germany.

Richard Weeks, a 64-year-old contracts manager from Sully near Cardiff, who had also been working on a clean water project, had been robbed at knifepoint..

The father of two said: "We were faced with looters rushing into the property where we were holed up and there was nothing we could do. It had been getting more risky for the ten days before and there was no
prospect of it easing.

"They were armed with knives and knew they could take what they wanted, so it was better to let them get on with it. It was a very sad and terrifying situation. I've lived between Cardiff and Benghazi for 20 years and the hope is that the country can return to peace soon."

The government sent HMS Cumberland to Benghazi to collect Britons and civilians from more than 20 nations. RAF planes and commercial airliners have rescued people from the north african country.

Mr Weeks said: "The Royal Navy has really impressed me during this journey. Space and resources were obviously limited but people were kind and considerate and we were kept warm and fed."

Cumberland's Commanding Officer, Captain Steve Dainton, said: "Ten days ago the ship was off the coast of Somali which shows how flexible we can be."

Keith and Sue Rodgers are bound for Settle in North Yorkshire but said they were reluctant to leave Libya.

Mrs Rodgers, 54, who teaches primary pupils at the British School in Benghazi, said: "It was very surreal because we could hear gun fire but could still pop to the shops to get items.

"It was in the last few days that the situation really worsened and we knew we had to go. We live in a normal apartment block in the city and had never had any trouble before; the Libyan people are incredibly friendly.

"We don't know if we will go back yet, for the moment we will go back home to Yorkshire."

HMS Cumberland is continuing to offer assistance in getting people out of Libya, and the Type 42 destroyer HMS York is also nearby to help if required.

Editor's note : Both ships are destined for the scrap heap under recently announced defence cuts. But this proves that 19's not enough.






By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On Aug. 24, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill addressed a special session of the Scottish Parliament. The session was called so that MacAskill could explain why he had decided to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of terrorism charges in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and who had been expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. MacAskill said he granted al-Megrahi a compassionate release because al-Megrahi suffers from terminal prostate cancer and is expected to live only a few months.

Read more...  

By Laurent Rathborn, UK Defence Forum Researcher

The moral question over how Europe and America should respond to Gaddafi's attack on civilians has been at least partially answered; aircraft from multiple nations are attempting to keep the peace, and so far seem to be succeeding. What happens next, however, depends on a number of factors and the response that NATO forces will adopt in the face of ongoing violence. Unlike Iraq in the mid-90s, this no-fly-zone (NFZ) has been set up right in the middle of a civil war. Legitimised by its bid to throw off a tyrant who, like Saddam Hussein, has little compunction about murdering his own citizens, this is almost a textbook example of an uphill struggle for democratic freedom, supported by a regional body – the Arab League - which asked for outside help in restoring sanity.

Unlike Iraq, where the no-fly zone was imposed after the brunt of the fighting had stopped, this conflict is still hot. Several ways forwards for NATO forces are now possible, but will depend on Gaddafi's next moves. In the immediate term, there must be an active effort to prevent what happened at the end of the first Gulf War; a deliberate punishment of civilians by Saddam's helicopter corps. Whereas all reports indicate that Gaddafi's air forces are now no longer a factor, it will take constant monitoring to ensure that revenge attacks are not perpetrated by ground forces in the future for what NATO is doing in the present.

Libyan government forces have thousands of square miles of desert to hide in, and the language used in Resolution 1973 explicitly forbids foreign occupation. However, as noted by UK government ministers, in strict legal terms, a ground force does not have to be an occupation force. The situation as it exists at the moment is very fluid, and all efforts will be concentrated on stopping government forces punishing civilians and disabling the infrastructure that enables them to do so. Strikes to this effect have already been carried out, but NATO forces will eventually run out of military targets. Once they do, several options may present themselves. The following are listed in order of aggression:

Actively target the Libyan leadership by military means. Emplace a NATO-backed, UN-approved government;Actively target the Libyan leadership in order to place them before the International Criminal Court, which is investigating multiple human rights abuses by the regime;Quarantine the east of the country from government forces via heavy NFZ activity or troop emplacement while seeking a political settlement that may end in partition or the creation of a transitional rebel-led government. Allow the internal prosecution of former regime elements;Continue to quarantine the air and wait for the rebels to win;Retreat, and let affairs come to their own conclusion.

The last of these is unlikely, but is included for the sake of completeness in the light of complaints by the Arab League that the intervention goes too far and was not what it had envisaged when it asked for international help. There are feelings amongst some commentators that those expressing legitimate revolutionary sentiments in Libya have now been disenfranchised by NATO's actions. They miss the more immediate point that people expressing revolutionary sentiments would have been overrun by now without intervention. Whether the democratic protests and rebel action can still be called legitimate is a talking point for political philosophers; what matters now is what NATO, the democratic rebels, and the Arab League can achieve.

Read more...  

Distinct interests sparked the European involvement in Libya. The United Kingdom and France have issued vociferous calls for intervention in Libya for the past month, ultimately managing to convince the rest of Europe — with some notable exceptions — to join in military action, the Arab League to offer its initial support, and global powers China and Russia to abstain from voting at the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. President Barack Obama said March 21 that the leadership of the U.S.-European coalition against Libya would be transitioned to the European allies "in a matter of days." While the United States would retain the lead during Operation Odyssey Dawn — intended to incapacitate Tripoli's command and control, stationary air defenses and airfields — Obama explained that Odyssey Dawn would create the "conditions for our European allies and Arab partners to carry out the measures authorized by the U.N. Security Council resolution." While Obama pointed out that the U.S.-European intervention in Libya is very much Europe's war, French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) and Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) arrived in waters near Libya, giving Europeans a valuable asset from which to increase European air sortie generation rates and time on station.

Before analyzing the disparate interests of European nations in Libya, one must first take stock of this coalition in terms of its stated military and political goals.

Read more...  

By Scott Stewart, Stratfor

On March 19, military forces from the United States, France and Great Britain began to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which called for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized the countries involved in enforcing the zone to "take all necessary measures" to protect civilians and "civilian-populated areas under threat of attack." Obviously, such military operations cannot be imposed against the will of a hostile nation without first removing the country's ability to interfere with the no-fly zone — and removing this ability to resist requires strikes against military command-and-control centers, surface-to-air missile installations and military airfields. This means that the no-fly zone not only was a defensive measure to protect the rebels — it also required an attack upon the government of Libya.

Certainly, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has no doubt that the U.S. and European military operations against the Libyan military targets are attacks against his regime. He has specifically warned France and the United Kingdom that they would come to regret the intervention. Now, such threats could be construed to mean that should Gadhafi survive, he will seek to cut off the countries' access to Libyan energy resources in the future. However, given Libya's past use of terrorist strikes to lash out when attacked by Western powers, Gadhafi's threats certainly raise the possibility that, desperate and hurting, he will once again return to terrorism as a means to seek retribution for the attacks against his regime. While threats of sanctions and retaliation have tempered Gadhafi's use of terrorism in recent years, his fear may evaporate if he comes to believe he has nothing to lose.

Read more...  

By Nima Khorrami Assl, UK Defence Forum Researcher

As the United States, France, and Britain take the plunge into Libya's internal conflict, there seems to be a disagreement on the objectives of the mission and therefore what the exit strategy should be.

The trouble is that objectives are unclear because tactics, as opposed to strategy, are being discussed, and hence national leaders and their military advisors have proved incapable of formulating an exit strategy. For example, UN Security Council Resolution allows for the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians, and it also advocates the idea of tilting the balance of power against Qaddafi. However, neither of these can be achieved without arming rebels and having troops on the ground. Meanwhile, there seems to be a consensus on a maximalist objective which is to say Qaddafi must go. Unclear is what role the alliance can and should play once he is gone given the NATO members' preference for minimalist tactics and narrow commitment in pursuit of their maximalist objective.

Hence, the international community, and in particular Britain, ought to seek to resolve the conflict via covert diplomatic means while keeping their forces on alert so to ensure that Qaddafi regime will put its words into action. This is so given that an immediate departure of the Qaddafi family from power will almost certainly create a de-ba'athification symptom which could easily embroil Libya into internal battles with different parts of the country dominated by rival tribes.

In terms of political infrastructure, Libya is equivalent of Afghanistan and Yemen, and that should Qaddafi go, Libya's political structure must be rebuilt from scratch. Qaddafi does not have a formal position to match his actual authority and thus he cannot be expected to resign. He makes the key decisions, but there are no formal institutions through which he does so. Therefore, the existence and predominance of informal ties and a lack of institutions should constitute the cornerstones of British strategy in the country which, in turn, require more realism as opposed to idealism.

What is crystal clear in Libya today is that there is a strong opposition to Qaddafi. However, it is not clear whether there is any internal coherence to that opposition which, in and by itself, is problematic in a country like Libya with a population of just over six million. The majority of the competent people in Libya have, in one way or another, worked with the Qaddafi regime. Hence, once Qaddafi is gone, there will not be enough trained bureaucrats to construct a new Libyan government that is not an extension of the old one. This fact alone could propel Libya back into some form of tribalism and create a power vacuum that will then be up for grab by contesting forces leading to emergence of a prolonged civil war; indeed a breeding ground for emergence of extremist discourses in North Africa. This becomes all the more alarming given the fact that Libya used to be the second-leading source of insurgents entering Iraq via Syria, Libyan rebels' possession of weapons and missiles looted from government stockpiles, and the regime's increasing attempts to arm its supporters for defensive purposes.

British interests in Libya are threefold: namely, securing British investment and energy needs, preventing Qaddafi from "brutalising" his own people, and averting societal instability and/or civil war. The underlying question, therefore, is that can a UN backed no-fly zone assist the government in its attempt to secure those interests? And the short answer is most probably not albeit the credible threat of use of force can prove effective in forcing the Libyan regime to make compromises.

Establishing a no-fly zone can be a very time consuming and complex endeavour requiring troops on the ground in order to provide meaningful protection to citizens as well as near-perfect clarity on the rules of engagement. While the latter might prove very difficult to achieve due to involvement of poorly trained troops from Arab states, the former is disallowed by the UN Resolution and Western leaders, in particular President Obama, are unwilling to contemplate it.

The UK's relative influence is clearly on the wane, not only because the "special relationship" is no longer that special but also because financial crisis of 2008 accelerated the transformation of economic and political power from the West to China, India and other rising powers. To be effective, therefore, UK foreign policy practitioners must be able to exploit short-lived opportunities and develop new types of partnership based on a well-defined vision for Britain's future role in accordance to the rapidly evolving geopolitical realities of this Century. Securing British interests abroad will require the government to be able to influence and/or persuade others to work with it on shared goals, and a prerequisite to achieving this end is to be seen as an enabler; an actor that has the knowledge and resources to help other states to develop sufficient vision and knowledge with regards to their involvement in critical parts of the world.

As such, the coalition government ought to be credited for persuading others to back its call for the use of credible threat under the guises of no-fly zone. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done in the form of covert diplomacy if Britain and its allies are to avoid another lengthy military commitment in a Muslim land. Covert diplomacy is needed to facilitate talks between pro and anti Qaddafi forces if there is going to emerge a reform-minded, representative government in Libya. This requires understanding Saif Qaddafi's motives, and Britain is well-equipped to take on this role.

Saif Qaddafi is British educated and has close links to this country; that is to say, we know him well and he knows us well too. He is, in fact, amongst the very few people in the Libyan government that Western officials can engage with on both political and intellectual levels. He is a reformer who, according to people close to him, believes in Western liberalism as evident in his writings. Writing him off for remarks, which were considerably taken out of context when reported, would be a major geostrategic mistake. It has to be realised that one single rule that every Arab is familiar with is that of 'family first, everything else next'. And Saif Qaddafi is no exception. Britain has the means to influence Saif and as a result can persuade its allies to support its efforts for a diplomatic solution.

A diplomatic end to the current instability in Libya can help Britain and its allies to avoid acquisitions of meddling in Muslim affairs and/or hijacking the Libyan revolution which will be voiced regardless of Arab states involvement. Moreover, Qaddafi's money and cheap oil have helped Robert Mugabe to buttress his position in Zimbabwe. Hence, a negotiated end to the Libyan drama can help Britain to force Qaddafi stop bailing out Mugabe thereby weakening his position in Zimbabwe indirectly. Finally, there is the real danger of a sharp drop in Libyan oil flow to Europe in events of a revolution or prolonged civil war which could be avoided if Britain merges the threat of force with covert diplomacy.

A reduction in Libyan oil production leads to further dependency on the Saudi oil thereby making Britain more vulnerable to Saudi demands at this critical time in the region. Already, it seems that there is an agreement between the West and the GCC in the form of Arab consent and help over Libya in return for Western silence over Bahrain. The trouble is that GCC regimes suppression of Shia in Bahrain is helping the Iranian government to expand its influence there. Should the GCC governments fail to stabilise Bahrain and Bahrain falls under the Iranian influence, treating Iran, already an influential actor in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, as an equal partner might very well become a strategic necessity.

In short, that a military no-fly zone is an insufficient, risky strategy is clearly evident in Western powers desperate attempts to present it as a joint operation between NATO and the Arab League. What has been happening in the past couple of weeks is making of a tribal war and entirely unclear is what glue will hold together this decentralized country in the absence of nationalist identification.

As a result, danger of Britain ending up inheriting an open-ended protection of a new mini-state is real and can only be avoided if Britain and its allies do not limit their strategy to the use of force. Aside from its obvious and immediate geostrategic consequences – i.e. civil war, the cut-off of oil, and the possible re-empowerment of Al-Qaeda in North Africa –, foregoing covert diplomacy in favour of overt use of force will drastically reduce Britain ability to portray herself as an enabler in the Arab world. This is important because British interests can be very well secured if Britain is seen as an enabler, especially by emerging powers and in particular India, in resource rich regions.


We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Defence Viewpoints website. However, if you would like to, you can modify your browser so that it notifies you when cookies are sent to it or you can refuse cookies altogether. You can also delete cookies that have already been set. You may wish to visit which contains comprehensive information on how to do this on a wide variety of desktop browsers. Please note that you will lose some features and functionality on this website if you choose to disable cookies. For example, you may not be able to link into our Twitter feed, which gives up to the minute perspectives on defence and security matters.