The death of Muammar Gaddafi and yesterday’s formal declaration of Libya’s liberation brings to a close one of the most successful operations NATO has conducted in its 62-year history.
The Libyan people had just cause in rising up against a dictator who had murdered his citizens and would have done so again given the chance. Our action, too, was just: defending the people against his brutal regime.
While their courage was never in doubt, the people needed help. They appealed to the international community; and the resolve and determination of the Arab League, the United Nations and the NATO alliance and its coalition members in responding to their calls does all three organisations much credit.
Neighbouring states and the wider world rightly responded to a dictator whose actions have destabilised the region. He not only threatened his own people but spread his terror around the globe.
Nor should we forget that Gaddafi was a latent threat to the UK and our citizens. He was responsible for arming the IRA, murdering WPC Yvonne Fletcher and hundreds of others in terrorist attacks - most infamously at Lockerbie - and developing chemical weapons.
Throughout the four decades of his dictatorship, he brought misery to thousands of homes and families. I will not mourn his death.
Our Armed Forces were able to play a key role in a great team effort orchestrated by the National Security Council and with essential work by the Foreign Office and Department for International Development (DFID).
I am proud of our actions in combat but also of the military support to the diplomatic effort which the UK, alongside our allies in France, deployed to bring together a coalition in response to the calls of the international community.
In Libya, the RAF’s Tornados again demonstrated their worth, while Typhoons flew their first combat missions. The Navy’s ships were more active than at any time since the Falklands conflict. And the Army launched Apache operations from the sea for the first time.
This was a truly joint operation by the Armed Forces at the peak of their form. We should not underestimate the risks that our pilots and ships took to reduce risk of collateral damage.
They did so to achieve a level of accuracy that contrasted with the indiscriminate violence of the Gaddafi regime. We will build on this for the future. Moreover, the results speak for themselves. A dictator gone, a people freed, and the popular expression of freedom across the Middle East supported worldwide.
While it is too early to reach conclusions, it is worth considering what initial lessons we can draw from the Libya campaign. As a military commander, I have always understood the need for partners and allies, and Libya demonstrated that NATO’s role is more valuable than ever.
Our pilots flew from NATO bases in Italy, were refuelled by NATO tankers and guided onto targets by analysts in NATO headquarters. The structures set up to defend ourselves against Soviet aggression provided the building blocks for a coalition that protected the Libyan people.
But NATO did not stand alone. While its air and maritime power was vital, military campaigns ultimately are decided on land. In an era when we are less likely to commit ground forces to combat unless our vital national interests are threatened, finding another means of achieving the same effect is vital.
In Libya, the army was essentially made up of the National Transitional Council’s militias. Our Arab partners Qatar, UAE and Jordan played a key role in facilitating their success, both militarily and morally. Understanding and exploiting similar situations in the future will be a priority.
Responding together doesn’t come easily. To act effectively, armed forces need to know each other and have a common understanding of the situation they face. Trying to build this under pressure leads to confusion.
It takes years and the work of diplomats and defence attaches to ensure we can call on allies when we need them.
We need to work harder on joint practices. NATO’s framework forms a vital core in terms of common training and understanding, but we must do more. The air forces and navies of the Middle East, Europe and North America did very well in Libya, but we can do better.
The more we embed training teams, exchange officers and prepare for joint operations, the more we will build the trust that comes only from years of mutual co-operation. Alliances require investment and Libya offers a case in point.
The military part of the operation is now over. Our assistance will change to a more enduring relationship led by the Foreign Office and DFID, with the military assisting in reforming and rebuilding Libya’s security forces.
The campaign sends a message to all dictators: the world supports people who are prepared to stand up against an oppressive regime. And while military action may not always be the right reaction, our resolve to assist is clear. To that end, Britain’s Armed Forces will always be a force for good.