British plans to send troops to Libya could result in another Afghanistan-style disaster, according to a former army colonel who led a “calamitous” mission in the war-ravaged North African state in 2012.
Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Wieloch told the Telegraph on Monday that British involvement carried “a great danger of mission creep.”
Mission creep – the military term for a war which, due to political factors or inept leadership, wanders off the original strategic track – is an accusation regularly levelled at the British politicians and military leaders who oversaw the war in Afghanistan’s Helmand province after 2006.
It comes as US President Barack Obama admitted he views the Libyan war as his “worst mistake” while in office. In March it was reported that Obama privately refers to the conflict’s shortcomings as UK PM David Cameron’s “sh*t-show.”
The British government is locked in a row over the risks associated with the deployment of 1,000 British troops as part of an Italian-led brigade if and when a unity government is established.
Wieloch said that if anything could bring about the dangerous unification of warring militias it would be “a large intervention of Western forces with boots on the ground.”
The plan to have Italy as the lead nation would have a similar effect, he said, due to the country’s brutal colonial past in Libya.
Italian forces carried out a string of atrocities in the country, one of the most widely known being the 1911 Tripoli massacre, in which around 4,000 civilians were killed by a vengeful Italian army following a vicious battle with Ottoman forces.
Wieloch did not oppose intervention by Muslim-led forces, but said the use of Italian troops is out of the question because “Libyans remember the fascist regime.”
“It would be very tempting to get involved in other things other than just training, for example crisis response, or defeating ISIL [Islamic State/IS, formerly ISIS] itself,” the colonel warned.
“We have seen this before in a number of operations,” he said, referring to the Afghan war.
“It’s then very easy for the local population to not understand what the international community is trying to do,” Wieloch said. It is “absolutely the case” that troops could be dragged into the violent local disputes between militias.
Wieloch was UK commander of a small military mission briefly responsible for reconstruction after the 2011 air war which precipitated Libya’s descent into anarchy.
Speaking to the Express newspaper in March he said the unit had no budget, received no mail or medals, had to buy its own equipment and wasn’t even visited by a senior officer. However, he called their withdrawal in 2012 a “calamitous error.”
UK troops under Italian command in a collapsing state where both are hated. Libya would be like Somalia + Afghanistan + Rorke’s Drift.
— Glenton (@joejglenton) April 11, 2016
Wieloch served for over 20 years in the Queen’s Royal Lancers, a venerable cavalry regiment whose bugler sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea in 1854.
Though the UK military has produced other contenders in the interim, the rash charge by poorly-led cavalry against entrenched Russian guns was widely seen as Britain’s most bungling tactical disaster.