Hammond - proud of Armed Forces' role in Libya

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Mr Hammond said that British forces have been hugely involved in prosecuting the campaign in Libya and that there have been over 3,000 sorties…

Mr Hammond said that British forces have been hugely involved in prosecuting the campaign in Libya and that there have been over 3,000 sorties flown over Libya, more than 2,000 of which were strike sorties. He added:

We’ve avoided, I think, collectively what would have been a potential humanitarian disaster. We know Colonel Gaddafi was bent on murdering his own people when this operation began back in March of this year, and I think we can be very, very satisfied with the outcome.

Now we need to support the Libyans, of course, to turn the liberation of their country into a successful stabilisation so that Libya can be a beacon of prosperity and democracy in North Africa, going forward.

Asked whether he would have wanted to have seen Gaddafi brought to court, Mr Hammond said:

We would of course have preferred to see Colonel Gaddafi brought to trial and to be forced to answer for his misdeeds over a period of getting on for 40 years now, but that is clearly not to be, and the important thing for the Libyans this morning is that they’re able to draw a line under the old regime, and we, the British people, I think, can be rightfully proud of the part that we have played in allowing them to liberate themselves.

Asked if he could explain the sequence of events that led to Colonel Gaddafi’s death, and were British forces involved, Mr Hammond said:

We know that this convoy sought to break out of Sirte early yesterday morning. It was obvious, I think, from the surveillance intelligence that it was likely to be a command and control group, a group of senior military leaders who were trying to break out.

As they did so, my understanding is they were attacking civilians; they were a legitimate NATO target and a NATO air strike was called in on them, causing significant damage to the convoy of vehicles.

The Free Libya fighters then moved in and what happened next is not yet entirely clear, but we know the end result was that Colonel Gaddafi died.

British planes were not directly involved in the strike on the convoy. There were Royal Air Force planes in the air at the time, but the aircraft that were called in to make that strike were not British aircraft.

Mr Hammond also said that this was an intervention that Britain led on:

We were instrumental in getting the United Nations Resolution, securing agreement among Western powers to intervene, getting the Gulf States to join us in that operation in order to protect the Libyan people from the murderous intent of Colonel Gaddafi - we all heard what he said about his intentions towards Benghazi - and I think the British people can be extremely proud, and we can be extremely proud of our Armed Forces as well, that we’ve made this intervention and it’s come to such a successful conclusion.

Mr Hammond explained that over the last few months RAF and Navy forces within NATO helped provide an umbrella under which the Libyan people were able to resolve their issues. He said:

It was a spontaneous rising of Libyan people to liberate their country from this 40-year tyranny, which has now come six months later to a successful conclusion; and I think, from our point of view in the UK, a moment when we can and should remember the very many British victims of Colonel Gaddafi’s 40-year rule.

As regards what happens next, Mr Hammond said:

NATO will now meet to decide when the mission is complete, and once we are satisfied that there’s no further threat to Libyan civilians and the Libyans are content, NATO will then arrange to wind up the operation.

On the face of it, this morning it looks as though the mission is pretty much complete, but it’s a brave man that says that there isn’t some little pocket somewhere of resistance that couldn’t still cause a problem. So I think we need to take stock properly; we need to consider very carefully the situation on the ground; we obviously need to discuss with the Libyans, make sure that they are happy, that they no longer need the protection that Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR has been delivering them.

The challenge for the Libyans he said now was to win peace, adding:

The various different groups that have risen up against Colonel Gaddafi were united by a hatred of the regime and a desire to liberate the Libyan people. Now, the National Transitional Council [NTC] has to manage the process of turning that into a coherent, stable government.

I think Libya has some cause for optimism that that will be achieved; it’s a relatively wealthy country, it has oil. The Libyan people have shown remarkable restraint over the last few months, and most people that have been to Tripoli, in particular, have been very complimentary about the way that life has returned quite significantly to normal in areas of the country that were liberated.

So I think there’s reason for optimism; but, of course, we’ll be looking to provide any assistance we can to the NTC in ensuring that that transition is smooth.

Asked if the focus now shifts to places like Syria and Yemen, and if British forces could provide support for uprisings elsewhere, Mr Hammond said:

We operated in Libya under a United Nations resolution, so this wasn’t some sort of lone venture that we were embarked upon - we were working with our NATO allies, enforcing a UN resolution - and it is very clear that there is no likelihood of any military intervention in relation to Syria. That is not on the agenda.

I think we shouldn’t forget that there is still a lot of work to do in Libya, the Libyan people will need our help and our support and our good wishes as they now go forward to consolidate this liberation into a viable state, and it’s very much in our interests that they’re successful in doing that, so let’s not take our eye off Libya just yet.