Britain’s military intervention in Libya, ordered by former Prime Minister David Cameron, relied on flawed intelligence and hastened the North African country’s political and economic collapse, according to a parliamentary report.
The Foreign Affairs Committee analysed Britain’s decision-making in the run-up to its intervention alongside France in 2011, which the government said at the time was aimed at protecting civilians under fire from long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Cameron, who ran Britain from 2010 until July, had a “decisive” role in the decision to intervene and must bear the responsibility for Britain’s role in the crisis in Libya, the report says.
“It [the government] could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion,” the MPs said in the report.
“UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”
Nearly five years after Gaddafi was toppled and killed, chaos continues to reign in Libya, with two rival governments vying for power and fierce battles over the country’s valuable oil assets.
Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said other options were available to Britain which could have led to a better outcome.
“I think we’ve got to the guts of what happened in Libya … the climate in which the decision was taken to deploy a force to protect the people of Benghazi. We make no suggestion that there was any bad faith in the way those decisions were made … the decision-makers genuinely believed that the people of Benghazi were under threat,” Blunt told Al Jazeera.
No evidence of analysis
The report said the government should have been aware that armed groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion, adding there was no evidence that a proper analysis of those behind the rebellion was carried out.
Cameron was described by the committee as “ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.
“It’s plainly part of [Cameron’s] legacy. We looked at how he chaired the National Security Council and [we found] there was no pause to assess,” Blunt told Al Jazeera.
Key political players including Liam Fox, former defence minister, and William Hague, former foreign minister, gave evidence to the committee, as well as Tony Blair, the former prime minister.
Blair told the committee he spoke to Gaddafi by phone in February 2011 and tried to convince him to stand aside.
“We saw no evidence that the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, attempted to exploit Mr Blair’s contacts,” the report said.
The fallout from the removal of Gaddafi has also seen criticism of US government policy, with President Barack Obama admitting in a candid interview with Atlantic magazine published in March that Libya was a “mess”.
Obama said Cameron became “distracted” after the 2011 intervention and said he had placed too much faith in the Europeans, including then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, “being invested in the follow-up”.
Intervention came after Gaddafi loyalists assaulted the eastern city of Benghazi, raising fears of an imminent massacre in the rebel stronghold.
A UN Security Council resolution with Arab backing authorised the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilians and enforce a ceasefire and no-fly zone against Gaddafi’s forces.