PM says Britain can last the distance in Libya

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Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Wednesday that Britain could sustain its Libya operation long-term, after the navy chief warned of tough choices if the campaign lasts more than six months.

Cameron said he had met First Sea Lord Admiral Mark Stanhope, the head of the Royal Navy, following his comments.

Britain has been one of the chief players in the NATO military alliance implementing a United Nations mandate to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya as leader Moamer Kadhafi attempts to crush a rebel uprising.

"I had a meeting with the first sea lord yesterday and he agreed that we can sustain this mission for as long as we need to," Cameron told parliament.

"We are doing the right thing.

"Time is on our side. We have got NATO, the United Nations, the Arab League. We have right on our side.

"The pressure is building, militarily, diplomatically, politically. Time is running out for Kadhafi."

Stanhope's comments had called into question a recent defence review which ushered in cuts including the scrapping of Britain's flagship aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, and fleet of Harrier jump jets.

"How long can we go on as we are in Libya?" Stanhope asked at a media briefing.

Beyond the 90-day extension to NATO's mission, "we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities."

Elements of the campaign would have been cheaper and "much more reactive" if Britain had still had an aircraft carrier, the admiral argued.

The defence budget has been slashed by eight percent as Cameron's coalition government tries to bring Britain's record deficit under control.

"At the end of this review, we have the fourth-highest defence budget for any country in the world," Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday.

"We have superb armed forces, superbly equipped and they're doing a great job in the skies above Libya."

© 2011 AFP

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