Britain seeks MPs' support for Libya attacks

21st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron will seek support from parliament Monday for military action in Libya, as ministers and military chiefs appeared at odds over targeting Moamer Kadhafi himself.

The House of Commons is expected to vote strongly in support of the intervention, which has so far seen two nights of British air and sea attacks as part of an international assault against the Libyan leader's forces.

Cameron has the support of his Conservative party and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, as well as the opposition Labour party.

But questions are likely to be asked about the aim of the strikes, which are intended to implement a UN Security Council resolution on a ceasefire and a no-fly zone to protect civilians from Kadhafi's troops.

The defence minister suggested Kadhafi himself would be a legitimate target, but the head of the armed forces flatly denied this.

The lack of Arab involvement in the first wave of air strikes, despite the Arab League's support for the UN resolution, has also sparked concern and provoked comparisons with the US-led 2003 war in Iraq.

In addition, Cameron will probably face questions about the risk of Britain being drawn into a ground war, although he has insisted there will be no ground invasion of Libya.

Acutely aware of the controversies in Britain's involvement in the US-led invasion of Iraq, the prime minister has consistently argued that his first military action since taking office in May last year is "necessary, legal and right".

But confusion has emerged over the goals of the mission.

When asked by the BBC Sunday whether British forces could legitimately target Kadhafi, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said "that would potentially be a possibility", although he warned of the potential risk to civilians.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates slapped down his comments, telling reporters as he travelled to Russia that it would be "unwise" to have coalition forces try to kill Kadhafi.

But Foreign Secretary William Hague refused to rule out the option Monday, saying: "I'm not going to speculate on the targets... that depends on the circumstances at the time."

Hague had previously said "the resolution is not about regime change", saying that while Britain wanted to see Kadhafi leave power, "what we will do militarily is to enforce the United Nations resolution".

Meanwhile the head of the British military, General David Richards, said Kadhafi was "absolutely not" a target, as the UN resolution did not allow it.

British forces bombarded Libyan targets for a second night Sunday, launching Tomahawk missiles from a submarine in the Mediterranean. A Tornado air strike was aborted at the last minute because of fears that civilians would be hit.

Ministers have denied reports from Tripoli that civilians were being killed in the international assault.

Military spokesman Major General John Lorimer told reporters Monday that the attacks had been "highly effective in degrading Libyan air defences and command and control capability".

Cameron has said repeatedly that there will be no British invasion of the Libya and rejected any comparisons with the Iraq war, noting that the current action was to implement a UN resolution backed by the Arab League.

Despite criticism from Arab League secretary general Amr Mussa at the weekend that the air strikes went beyond the UN resolution, Cameron's spokesman said the premier had spoken to Mussa on Monday and believed they were "on the same page" on Libya.

Some British lawmakers remain sceptical about the mission, however.

"What I feel is missing here is any assessment of what the implications are," said Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing Labour lawmaker who opposes the assault.

He told Sky News: "Maybe some way out for Kadhafi is a good thing. But what is happening now is bombing. Civilians are going to get injured, and at some point they are going to say they want boots on the ground."

© 2011 AFP

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