British troops go to Libya amid ‘Vietnam’ warnings
British military personnel will be sent to Libya, prompting a warning that Britain now risks being sucked into a prolonged Vietnam-style conflict.
James Kirkup, Thomas Harding and Bruno Waterfield, The Telegraph, April 19, 2011
At least ten senior officers will be sent to Benghazi to try to forge the rebels trying to oust Colonel Muammar Gaddafi into a credible fighting force.
Ministers insisted that deploying the “military liaison advisory team” was not a sign of mission creep, but MPs of all parties said the move showed Britain is being dragged ever deeper into a Libyan civil war.
The announcement came after David Cameron urged Cabinet ministers to draw up new measures to help the rebels break the military deadlock in Libya.
After more than a month of air strikes, the rebels have failed to make significant progress against Col Gaddafi. British commanders have told the Prime Minister that the rebels lack the organisation to challenge the dictator’s forces.
Mr Cameron, who personally led international efforts to launch the Libyan intervention, is said to be becoming “increasingly impatient” and anxious about the stalemate.
The deployment of military advisers is the first move to arise from Mr Cameron’s request for “creative thinking” over Libya and officials said more announcements could follow.
It is understood that Special Forces attacks on Gaddafi forces and moves to arm the rebels are both under consideration.
Rebel leaders in the besieged city of Misurata last night urged Britain and France to go further and deploy combat troops to protect them from attack by Gaddafi’s forces. “If they don’t come, we will die,” said Nuri Abdullah Abdullati.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said the military advisers would show the rebel Transitional National Council “how to improve their military organisational structures, communications and logistics.”
The British personnel will be under strict orders not take part in planning or executing military operations, Mr Hague said: “It’s not boots on the ground, it’s not fighting forces. These are not people to fight on the battlefield, these are people to advise on organisation.”
France is also deploying military advisers to Libya. Some French MPs want to deploy combat troops but Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said he was “entirely hostile” to the idea.
The British announcement drew warnings from MPs that Britain’s mission in Libya has now changed significantly from the campaign of humanitarian airstrikes approved by the House of Commons last month.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, warned that Britain risks becoming embroiled in a military quagmire in Libya.
He said: “It must not be seen as a first instalment of further military deployment. Vietnam began with an American president sending military advisers. We must proceed with caution.”
Conservative MPs said Mr Cameron will face questions in the Commons next week about the changing mission in Libya
John Baron MP said: “This is clear evidence of mission creep. Now we are beginning to put military personnel on the ground, something that wasn’t even discussed when we debated this issue.”
Peter Bone MP said: “We seem to be taking sides in a civil war. That may well be right, but it is not for the Government to decide, it is for Parliament to decide,” he said.
The military mission was announced as British forces took part in an attack that sources said heralded a change in Nato tactics.
British and French warplanes carried out “deliberate, multiple strikes” on Gaddafi’s communication hubs. The Royal Navy submarine Triumph also launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, said the allies will “intensify our military effort from our air force to prevent Gaddafi forces from pursuing their attacks on civilian populations.”
To overcome a shortage of Nato combat planes France has provided extra fighters and was moving its Charles De Gaulle aircraft near to Misurata to provide “faster rotations and targeting”, said a source.