Government refuses publicly to rule out ground troops in Libya

By staff writers
March 20, 2011

The UK government's Chancellor has pointedly refused publicly to rule out British ground troops being sent in to Libya - despite the clear position of UN Security Resolution 1973 to the contrary.

Speaking on BBC1 television's 'Andrew Marr' programme this morning (20 March 2011), George Osborne refused repeated invitations to say explicitly that British troops will not be used.

"We are not considering ground forces at the moment,” was all he would say - with the temporal qualifier being understood by commentators to indicate a tactical rather than in-principle decision.

British members of parliament will have a chance to debate the US, UK and French military action against Libya tomorrow (21 March) - three days after the Prime Minister took the decision to commence it.

Opponents of the war say that, once again following the Iraq debacle, Westminster and elected public representatives are being treated with contempt by a government pre-committed to armed action.

As the second night of air strikes began in Libya, anti-aircraft fire was heard in Tripoli, media reports indicated. Military chiefs say that the No-fly Zone has been effectively imposed, but reports on the ground are uneven.

The Libyan government now says it has implemented a second ceasefire, commencing at 19.00 GMT.

On the BBC, Chancellor George Osborne was asked if ‘mission creep’ was the most likely outcome of the air operation if Colonel Gaddafi proved difficult to dislodge. But he declined to answer the question directly.

“I am not going to speculate about future military operations,” he declared.

Six months ago the UK was supplying arms to the Gaddafi regime, and Prime Minister David Cameron's initial response to popular uprisings in the Middle East was to go on a regional tour touting more arms to unelected governments.

Critics say that the decision to bomb Libya is risky and likely to be counterproductive. But as with the Iraq war, the majority of MPs and the main parties will give it backing on the 21 March.

"The Prime Minister is being garlanded with praise for the impressive way he has shaped the argument for intervention in Libya," Daily Telegraph deputy editor Benedict Brogan wrote today. "But the exit strategy is far from clear."

Green MP and party leader Caroline Lucas is thought to be ready to oppose the action, however, and more sceptical parliamentarians may speak out.

"I worry about mission creep: after all, who is going to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid in Libya?", asked Labour MP Chris Bryan on his Twitter feed.

Writing on openDemocracy, another Labour member, Graham Allen, says he will vote against the action because it is selective and expedient, does not involve Arab nations sufficiently, is inconsistent, and opens the door to al Qaeda.

The Libyan bombings have been condemned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Chair Kate Hudson told protesters at a rally in Downing Street: "We don't think the massive aerial bombardment is going to help bring about peace and democracy in Libya. Cruise missiles may be killing children as we speak."

Symon Hill, associate director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, commented: "People across North Africa and the Middle East have inspired the world with their courage and commitment to challenging injustice. It is local movements for change that lead countries away from tyranny. Freedom cannot be imposed top-down, least of all by a military intervention. More bombs will mean more deaths, not more democracy."

"The British Prime Minister is bombing Libya only a few months after authorising the sale of arms to the Gaddafi regime. Saudi forces are currently suppressing peaceful protests in Bahrain with armoured vehicles made in Newcastle. If the government wishes to demonstrate a commitment to opposing dictatorship on the world stage, ending all arms sales to oppressive regimes should be the priority, rather than risky military adventurism," said Hill.


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