The Ministry of Defence is facing demands to explain the unravelling of a training programme for Libyan armed forces which has led to 300 soldiers being sent home early amid allegations of sex attacks and ill discipline.
Army chiefs have cut short the six-month programme for some 325 Libyan troops based at a barracks in Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, after admitting there had been “disciplinary issues” concerning the conduct of some of the soldiers sent to Britain as part of a pledge to help the Tripoli government improve security.
The decision follows the charging of five of the Libyan military personnel with a spate of sex attacks in Cambridge, including the rape of a 20-year-old man 10 days ago.
Two men have pleaded guilty to a separate sexual assault which a court heard involved them stealing bikes to cycle 16 miles from the barracks into the university city before indecently assaulting women in the centre by groping them and trying to put their hands up their skirts.
Andrew Lansley, the former Conservative health secretary and MP for South Cambridgeshire, said the MoD had to answer to its apparent failure to put the resources in place to enforce a rule that the Libyans could not leave their base without an escort.
He told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: “Unfortunately, [the MoD] appeared to be incapable of ensuring that a minority didn’t undermine the whole training programme.”
Acknowledging the criminal charges against the personnel, he added: “The MoD are very conscious of that and it is their responsibility to account for that.”
The cohort of Libyan troops, many of them former members of the militias which deposed the dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, were the first of a total of 2,000 who had been expected to pass through Bassingbourn as part of a programme to regularise the country’s security forces.
The MoD insisted that the majority of the recruits, who were escorted by a small number of Libyan officers and were being trained by the Royal Regiment of Scotland, had benefited from the programme.
But the project had been beset by problems, including an incident where troops were detained for trying to visit a local supermarket and the premature departure of around 90 soldiers for reasons including medical treatment and disciplinary issues.
Both the Home Office and the MoD last night declined to comment on claims that up to 20 of the Libyans may have also claimed asylum in Britain.
Two soldiers - Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, 33, and 22-year-old Ibrahim Abogutila - are due to appear before Cambridge Crown Court next week charged with rape.
Two other cadets - Ibrahim Naji El Maarfi, 20, and 27-year-old Mohammed Abdalsalam - last week admitted two counts each of sexual assault.
They were remanded in custody along with a third man, Khaled El Azibi, 18, who refused to enter a plea to three charges of sexual assault.
In a statement, the MoD said: “The majority of recruits have responded positively to the training despite the ongoing political uncertainty in Libya but there have been disciplinary issues.
“The UK remains committed to supporting the Libyan government as it works to establish stability and security across the country.”