Crispin Blunt: Britain has moral responsibility to train Libyan army


Britain has a moral responsibility to help train a new national Libyan army after the fiasco of its , but any British forces stationed in Tripoli would be perceived as an invading force and therefore seen as a military target, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Crispin Blunt, has said.

He was speaking on Thursday after Libya’s unity government tried to assert its authority in Tripoli in the wake of the UN-backed prime minister-designate’s arrival in the capital.

Fayez al-Sarraj’s arrival at a naval base on Wednesday, probably supported by UK special forces, led to threatened reprisals from the militia-backed authority in charge of Tripoli, which demanded he leave or surrender.

It has been widely reported that the UK is prepared to provide a 1,000-strong training force, alongside help from the Italians and French. David Cameron would need the political support of key Conservative figures such as Blunt for any second military effort to stabilise .

In Istanbul, the UN special envoy Martin Kobler was trying to shore up support for Sarraj by holding talks with key political figures.

The west has been pressing for a new unity government to be formed in Libya for months as two rival governments have since 2014 claimed to be the legitimate power in a country that has collapsed to near anarchy since the western-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

There has been an increasingly fraught transatlantic argument about responsibility for the current state of Libya, which has threatened to become a breeding ground for in North Africa.

Blunt’s support for specific limited British intervention was underscored by a demand by the Conservative MP that any UK involvement in an air campaign against Isis in Libya would have to be authorised by parliament.

In a sign of the tensions inside Tripoli, gunmen stormed the headquarters of a Libyan television station late on Wednesday, apparently in support of the new government, saying the station was broadcasting war and hatred.

Khalifa Ghweil, who has been running an alternative government – the General National Congress – in Tripoli, has insisted he remains in charge.

Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the UN-backed unity government, meets with his team in Tripoli. Photograph: Mohamed Ben Khalifa/AP

In a bid to isolate him, EU member states on Thursday agreed to impose sanctions on three Libyans for obstructing the formation of Sarraj’s government.

One European source said the measures comprise “a ban on travelling in the European Union and a freeze on assets in the EU”.

The EU sanctions target Ghweil, Nuri Abu Sahmein (the capital’s prime minister), and Aguila Saleh (speaker of Libya’s internationally recognised government).

Giving his backing for the British intervention, Blunt said: “In view of the mess left behind by the French and ourselves, we cannot simply leave Libya alone.

“Any initiative involving the green beret – as opposed to special forces – to expand and train a national Libyan military capacity has value, but not in Tripoli, where UK forces will be targets and look like an invading force.”

He added: “Any deeper involvement, including the use of airstrikes against Islamic State positions, will require parliamentary approval. The government anyway needs to get over its fear of discussing this with parliament and, if necessary, to seek authorisation at the appropriate moment.

“A national Libyan force needs to be created. People need to be brought out of violence and the central bank needs to pay the militias to get out of the military business.”

Blunt also praised Kobler’s patient diplomacy, saying he had been working constructively to form a government. Kobler argued for a “peaceful and orderly handover” to Sarraj, praising the “exceptional personal courage” of the prime minister-designate.

The militia deployed to protect the oil sites have declared support for the new government, and the spokesman of the National Oil Company announced that within two months the production of crude oil would reach 800,000 barrels of oil per day.