On a visit to RAF Waddington, the Deputy Prime Minister toured the base and spoke to service personnel. He also delivered a speech to thank the troops for protecting the Libyan people in their “darkest hour”.
It is a great honour to be here at RAF Waddington.
For eight months, you and your partners in NATO and from the Arab World, under the authority of the United Nations, have been protecting the Libyan people - six million men, women and children - from the brutality of Colonel Qadhafi and his regime.
In March, the forces of the Qadhafi regime were poised to overrun Bengazi. The threats of a tyrant ringing in the ears of the ordinary people of Libya. He said he would show no mercy; he said he would crush their dreams of democracy; he said he would cleanse Libya, house by house. A massacre was on the cards. Thousands of innocent people could have been killed.
But the world acted. Allied air power - French, American and British - stopped the advance on Benghazi in its tracks. NATO brought together capabilities from 18 nations, including vital contributions from Arab countries and deployed them wherever and whenever the Libyan people needed them.
So this was an allied effort. But I am here to pay tribute to you, the men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces. You may have had the benefit of world-class aircraft. You may have had the benefit of precision weaponry. You may have had the support of the world’s greatest military alliance. But it has been your skill, your commitment, your bravery that has made the difference.
2,300 men and women from all three services were involved, with over 3,000 sorties flown. Typhoons were patrolling the airspace over Libya just 18 hours after being ordered to deploy.
Tornados conducted some of the longest range offensive missions ever flown from the UK enabled by the Tri-Star and VC10 refuelling fleets.
Sentinel, Sentry, Nimrod, Sea King and Lynx, all providing the support needed to apply force against the right target at the right time.
Four Regiment Army Air Corps flying Apache Helicopters from HMS Ocean for the first time in anger.
And let us not forget the outstanding role of - and indeed sacrifice made by - Number 2 Mechanical Transport Squadron in sustaining the deployed Force by road.
They provided tremendous support alongside the RAF’s many other vital support units.
So this has been a real team effort. From everyone in the air, on the ground and from the sea, here in the UK, in Italy, in the Mediterranean. In national and NATO headquarters.
Thanks to the protection you have provided the Libyan people in their darkest hour, they have thrown off the yoke of Qadhafi and his regime. And, because of you, the guardians of freedom, they now have hope for their future.
The road ahead will not be easy. But the people of Libya will have the support of the British Government as they build a new society. And Libya will no longer be a pariah state on the Mediterranean. Which means you have done a great service for Britain’s national security too.
You have saved countless lives. You have performed magnificently in testing times.
Now, as you return to your families, my thanks, the nation’s thanks, the thanks of the Libyan people go to you.