Britain could have done more to prevent Libya’s slide into war and chaos, but was right to intervene against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood has claimed.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Ellwood defended the intervention, while accepting some of its failings.
The UK intervened as part of a US-led NATO operation in which Western jets provided top cover for local fighters on the ground.
“We didn’t do it to try and transform Libya and do something else. We did it to support the people of Libya against a criminal and indeed a terrorist himself with what he did with the Pan Am flight and so forth,” he said.
“It was 40 years of misrule in a very complex society with huge tribal constructs across there, after 40 years all these tribes found they had a bit of space, a bit of elbow room, and, yes, perhaps we could have done more, but we were asked to leave, the international community was asked to take a step back from its involvement,” Ellwood said.
Also on the panel was Labour shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who said that “failure” in Libya had left parts of the North African state ungoverned, which, in turn, “directly leads to us being less safe” in the UK, she said.
Evidence emerging in the wake of the deadly Manchester suicide bombing carried out by British-Libyan Salman Abedi suggests that many fighters in the anti-Gaddafi militias were linked to Al-Qaeda.
Among these appears to have been Abedi’s father, Ramadan, who was part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – effectively the Libyan branch of the global terrorist group.
It appears that many LIFG fighters that had settled in Britain had control orders loosened and passports returned in 2011 with the connivance of MI5 – which was under the control of then-Home Secretary Theresa May – in order to allow them to return to Libya to oppose Gaddafi.
Ellwood and Thornberry appeared on Sky News shortly after their Rusi clash with the Conservative minister warning that this was not the time to pull away from the US, Britain’s major ally.
Thornberry riposted by pointing out that the Tory manifesto mentioned no countries except the US and accused the Conservatives of waiting for Donald Trump to tell them what Britain’s foreign policy should be.