News story

Report on lessons learned from Libya crisis

A review of central co-ordination and lessons learned in Libya has been published today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser’s Review of Central Co-Ordination and Lessons Learned covers the period of armed conflict in Libya from 19 March to 31 October 2011 as well as the key events leading up to military action.

This was the first new crisis involving deployment of UK military forces since the creation of the National Security Council (NSC).

The review covers:

  • Strategic direction and decision making
  • Operational co-ordination and implementation
  • Humanitarian response
  • Stabilisation planning
  • Co-ordination with allies
  • Informing Parliament
  • Strategic communications.

The Prime Minister said in a statement:

I am today publishing in full the National Security Adviser’s review of how the Whitehall machine operated during the Libya conflict and what lessons we can learn, in keeping with the commitment I made to the House on 5 September.

I told the House on 21 March that I believed that military intervention was necessary, legal and right to protect the people of Libya from the brutality of Qadhafi’s regime, and I pay tribute to the courage and professionalism of our armed forces during this conflict.  There remains much to do to secure a successful transition to a peaceful and prosperous democracy, and we will continue to assist the interim Libyan Government. But our armed forces, our diplomats and development experts who re-established the British presence in Benghazi and Tripoli, and all those in the UK who contributed to the success of the international effort, can be proud of the part they have already played.

The National Security Council proved its worth in ensuring effective co-ordination of this country’s contribution throughout the crisis in Libya. But it is always right to learn the lessons after any conflict. In addition to the areas where things went well, Sir Peter Ricketts’ review has also highlighted a number of lessons for future conflicts, including the importance of swift evacuation of UK nationals; integrating better economic analysis and policy more prominently at the early stages of conflict planning; and establishing a clearer cross-Government process for the negotiation of UNSCRs.

Copies of the review of lessons learned from Libya have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.  The review is also available on the No10 website.


The Prime Minister announced on 5 September to the House of Commons that he would commission and publish a review of ‘how the Whitehall machine operated and what lessons we can learn’ from the Libya campaign. He asked the National Security Adviser Peter Ricketts to provide this.

The study covers the period of international military action in Libya, from 19 March to 31 October 2011, as well as key events leading to military action. A timeline of key events is attached to the document as an annex.

Importantly, this was the first international crisis involving deployment of military forces since the creation of the National Security Council (NSC).

Key features of the report

The NSC worked well as a central co-ordinating and driving function, by successfully bringing together key Ministers and officials in weekly NSC sub-committee meetings NSC(L).

The NSCL was set up to respond to a Libyan crisis in which Qadhafi’s forces had driven through a number of Libyan towns brutally repressing the popular protests. Ajdabiyah had already been taken by force and Benghazi faced the threat of mass killings by the time military action had been authorised.

NSCL was formed on 20 March 2011, just three days after UNSCR 1973 was passed and a day after the start of coalition military action.

NSCL was the central forum for collective discussion of the Government’s objectives on Libya and their delivery. It drew together Ministers from both parties in the Coalition to allow them to make rapid, well-informed decisions that were co-ordinated and implemented across Government.

The Attorney General was present at all those NSCLs that required legal opinion. UK action was based throughout on AG advice and advice from departmental legal advisers.

Published 1 December 2011