The UK's contribution to the NATO mission in Libya has been commended by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee in its report on the operation.
The Committee said it commends the UK’s Armed Forces for their significant contribution to the successful conclusion of the Libya operation and that 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.
Commenting on the report, Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, said:
This report highlights the success of our Armed Forces in saving thousands of civilian lives in Libya by taking action against the Gaddafi regime.
I welcome the Committee’s praise of the courage, dedication and professionalism of our Service personnel and the quality of the equipment available to them.
The Libyan campaign shows that we retain the contingent capability to conduct operations in addition to our commitments in Afghanistan, counter-piracy off the Horn of Africa, Gulf security, and standing tasks such as the Falklands and defence of the UK.
Conducted against the backdrop of a multi-billion pound black hole in the Defence Budget, the SDSR [Strategic Defence and Security Review] required tough decisions whose underpinning logic the Committee has previously agreed with.
We retain the capability to project power abroad and meet our NATO obligations, supported by what is the world’s fourth largest defence budget.
The air component of the operation was commended, both in its combat role and in the non-combatant evacuation of UK and other civilians by Hercules.
The report particularly notes that in its first operational role the Typhoon performed very reliably, and that the performance of the Tornado has yet again proven it a bedrock of multi-role capability, having precision weapons, first-class reconnaissance capability and first-class targeting capability.
It also notes that 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 and the Committee calls for the MOD to give a higher priority to the development of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance 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 also commended 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.
The Committee said that 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 SDSR is taking effect.
While the Committee found that 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, James Arbuthnot, said:
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.