Only 13 MPs voted against the Libyan intervention. An all-party committee is looking into the justification for the Libyan military intervention, and the subsequent collapse of authority inside Libya. Since Gaddafi’s departure, Islamic State has gained a foothold in the country. A senior government minister wrote the phrase “fanciful rot” on a British stabilisation plan for Libya drawn up for implementation after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the foreign affairs select committee was told.
Former international development minister Alan Duncan said the paper, drawn up by a cross-governmental body of officials, was “an unrealistic desktop exercise” that took no account of the tribal forces that would be unleashed if Gaddafi’s government fell. Duncan said: “[The paper was based on the] whopping assumption that anything that follows Gaddafi will be better. It did not foresee the real historic and tribal tensions [that would] be unleashed and act as a source for conflict and not unity.” His remarks reflect a growing acceptance within Whitehall that Britain’s intervention in Libya misjudged the political forces in the country.
David Richards, chief of the defence staff at the time, also conceded that he was “very sorry about the outcome” to the campaign, saying it was “a strategic failure”. He claimed respectable Libyans had assured the Foreign Office that they would have a grasp over the militias once the conflict was over. Lord Richards said with the benefit of hindsight this was wrong, adding that the diplomats “somehow hoped that it would work out on the night when self-evidently it did not”. Richards also admitted that British military intelligence had little knowledge of the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya. Libyan officials had assured him that there were no tribal forces inside Libya. He added: “If you don’t do it properly or you don’t have the resources, do not do it all.”
The former foreign secretary William Hague conceded Libya was in a terrible state, he reflected: “In Libya we had plenty of plans but no power to implement them.” Hague also conceded “certainly there was a success for radical Islamist candidates” in the elections.
The former defence secretary Liam Fox also admitted Britain knew that weapons were being transported in convoys out of the collapsing Libyan state into Niger and Mali. Fox said: “It is always true that where a power vacuum is created, forces of insurgency are drawn into it.”
Fox said France was the chief source of the momentum for military intervention in February 2011, with the former president Nicolas Sarkozy “very determined” from the outset to launch airstrikes within minutes of an agreement to do so. Asked if France had “jumped the gun and didn’t tell us”, Fox said he was not aware of anyone in government who knew about the impending airstrikes. Richards revealed he had built a military break point into the UK plan for Libya, to take place after protecting the civilians of Benghazi from Gaddafi, but the pause, designed to give a chance to reopen negotiations with Gaddafi, was rejected by the UK’s French allies and gained little traction in the UK. “We did not own the process,” Richards said.