Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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MPs publish report on Operations in Libya

The Government will need to make some difficult decisions on prioritisation if it embarks on a future mission similar to the Libya operation now that the Strategic Defence and Security (SDSR) is taking effect, says the Defence Committee in its report into Operations in Libya, published yesterday. Although the UK was able to satisfy both operations in Libya and Afghanistan and its other standing tasks and commitments, the Libya operation was conducted before the implementation of many of the SDSR decisions on capability reductions.

Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP says,

"We consider that the Libya operation raises important questions as to the extent of the United Kingdom's national contingent capability. The Government needs to review our capacity to respond to concurrent threats. This work should be conducted as a matter of urgency before the next Strategic Defence and Security Review."

UK Armed Forces

The Committee commends UK Armed Forces for their significant contribution to the successful conclusion of the Libya operation. The report pays tribute to the UK Armed Forces and civilian personnel who contributed to the operation. They continue to impress with the courage, dedication and professionalism with which they undertook this operation which the Committee is convinced saved thousands of civilian lives. 

UK contribution to the operation

The air component of the operation has been commended, both in its combat role and in the Non-combatant Evacuation Operations for UK and other civilians by Hercules. The report particularly notes that in its first operational role, Typhoon performed very reliably. Joint Helicopter Command was able to deploy Apache helicopters successfully to the Mediterranean Sea as well as maintain their numbers in Afghanistan. The service life of the Nimrod R1 signals intelligence aircraft was extended for the mission. The Committee calls for the MoD to give a higher priority to the development of ISTAR capabilities in advance of the next SDSR and for the MoD to clarify the position on the future of the Sentinel aircraft and what impact retention would have on other budget areas.
The Committee commends the actions of the Royal Navy in the operation particularly in respect of the evacuation of civilians from Benghazi, the enforcement of the arms embargo and the early deployment of the first Response Force Task Group. However, at times, the Royal Navy was not able to carry out important tasks such as the Fleet Ready Escort and counter drugs operations owing to meeting the Libya commitment. Given the high levels of standing maritime commitments it is likely that this type of risk taking will occur more frequently as the outcomes of the SDSR are implemented. This will be a significant challenge for the Royal Navy and the MoD and the Committee call on them to outline their plans to meet this challenge in response to their report.


The report notes the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review aim that the UK would be more selective in its deployment of UK Armed Forces and would do so where there was a "clear strategic aim...and a viable exit strategy". There is, however, a disconnect between this assertion and the admission of the Minister for the Armed Forces that there is a limit to the number of engagements that can be undertaken where the exit strategy is known with complete clarity.

Implications for future operations

For the time being, there will continue to be a heavy reliance on US command and control functions for future NATO operations. Whilst accepting the current economic climate and its implications for defence capabilities, the Committee is also concerned that future NATO operations will not be possible if the US is not willing or able to provide capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence and refuelling aircraft. It should be a priority for NATO to examine this over-reliance on US capabilities and assets. This challenge will be heightened by the US stated intention to shift its military, geographic and strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region.
Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon James Arbuthnot MP says,

"The mission in Libya was successful in discharging the UN mandate. The real test is whether the success of this mission was a one-off or whether the lessons it has highlighted mean that future such missions can be successfully undertaken, whilst maintaining the UK's capability to protect its interests elsewhere."

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