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There are many good reasons for Britain and her allies to bring some form of political stability to war-torn Libya. But sending 1,000 British troops as sacrificial lambs to the lawless shores of the northern Mediterranean is not the way to go about it.
The notion of dispatching a British force as part of a European peacekeeping mission has been knocking around Whitehall since last summer. It stems from the deepening realisation among Western leaders that, unless urgent action is taken to arrest Libya’s alarming descent into anarchy, the country will pose an ever greater threat to Europe’s own security.
Thus a plan is now under active consideration – Whitehall officials insist no final decision has yet been taken – to commit 1,000 or so British troops to Libya as part of a larger European peacekeeping force in support of the country’s new national unity government. The idea is that they will help to create a designated “Green Zone” in the centre of the capital, Tripoli, similar to one the US established in Baghdad during the Iraq campaign. This protected area will allow government departments to embark on the massive task of establishing its authority and rebuilding the country after the chaos of the past five years.
Unlike Iraq, though, Downing Street, with its well-documented aversion to committing “boots on the ground” in any circumstance, insists British forces will not be involved in front-line combat, but fulfilling purely a training role.
Try telling that to the thousands of Islamist jihadists who will flock to Libya – assuming, that is, they are not already there – to wage violent jihad against the infidel peacekeepers. It will be like Helmand all over again, with British troops desperately fighting for their lives, as happened when the Army first deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2006.
The proposal has already drawn fire from Crispin Blunt, the Tory MP and ex-Army officer who chairs the Foreign Affairs select committee. Mr Blunt warns that any such deployment on these terms will be a “disaster”, as British forces would be a “sitting target” for Islamic State (Isil) militants based in Libya, as well as the myriad other militias opposed to the national unity government. “It will be Lebanon in 1983 all over again.”
Well, I was in Lebanon in 1983 covering the country’s bitter civil war for this newspaper. And I witnessed first-hand what happens when a well-intentioned peacekeeping force is dispatched to hostile terrain brimming with Islamic militants without the politicians giving proper consideration as to the likely consequences. In short: disaster.
Within months of the arrival of the US-led multinational peacekeeping force, 356 American and French soldiers had been killed and hundreds more injured before the Reagan administration admitted defeat and ordered their withdrawal. (The 100-strong British contingent, which spent an uncomfortable six months kicking their heels at a disused cigarette factory in Beirut’s southern suburbs, thankfully escaped without suffering serious injury.)
Looking back 30 years on, it could be argued the most enduring legacy of that ill-fated Lebanon mission has been the emergence of the Iranian-backed Hizbollah Shia militia as one of the world’s strongest and most effective terrorist organisations. In planning for any future intervention in Libya, therefore, great care needs to be taken that, no matter how good our intentions, we do not end up turning Libya into an Isil-controlled Islamic republic.
Not that some form of Western intervention isn’t necessary if the country is to stand any chance of getting back on its feet. With Libya now awash with Islamist-inspired militias and people-smuggling gangs, the newly-formed national unity government has absolutely no chance of establishing its authority – assuming, that is, it can ever persuade the warring factions to allow it to return from exile in Tunisia.
Defeating the gangs, stemming illegal migration, and preventing more attacks like the one last summer at the Tunisian resort of Sousse, in which 30 British holidaymakers died, are just a few of the compelling arguments for intervening in Libya. The challenge is how best to go about it.
For a start, any form of Western help can only be undertaken if there is a clear request from the internationally-recognised Libyan government to do so. And if such an intervention is to take place, then it must be done with the right force strength. The combined force of 6,000 or so European troops that is currently being discussed would be woefully inadequate for a country that is five times the size of France.
If we are really serious about bringing peace to Libya, a far larger force will be needed, one where regional allies such as Egypt, which also has a vested interest in eradicating Isil and criminality from its near neighbour, can make a significant contribution. Only then would we have a fighting chance of making the mission a success.
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تاريخ التسجيل : 08/04/2011
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