PM hails UK Libya role despite cuts

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David Cameron insisted today the "armchair generals" who have criticised the Government's defence cuts had been proved wrong by operations in Libya.

Despite continued claims that the Nato campaign had exposed the limits of British military resources, the Prime Minister said the UK had punched "above our weight".

In a forceful rebuke to those who have doubted the wisdom of British intervention in Libya given recent defence cuts, he said: "A lot of armchair generals who said you couldn't do it without an aircraft carrier, they were wrong.

"A lot of people who said Tripoli is completely different to Benghazi, the two don't get on, they were wrong.

"People who said this is all going to be an enormous swamp of Islamists and extremists, they were wrong.

"People who said we were going to run out of munitions, they were wrong."

Mr Cameron dismissed claims that the US saw Britain as a "weak ally" and stressed that the RAF had carried out about a fifth of all strike sorties against Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "If you look at the number of strike sorties, there were less than 8,000, somewhere just less than 8,000.

"Britain performed 1,600 of those, so around a fifth of strike sorties, and I think that is punching, as it were, at our weight or even above our weight."

The Prime Minister insisted that British forces had not suffered for the lack of an aircraft carrier because of their ability to use bases "all over the Mediterranean".

He also denied claims that the UK had run out of munitions for operations in Libya.

But Michael Clarke, director of the respected Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), said Britain's stock of Brimstone missiles was down to single figures.

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "Undoubtedly, if this had been a more intense operation than it was, it might have been difficult for us to sustain the operations that we did.

"The military were able to do this because, as usual, they improvised quite a lot."

He added: "If it had gone on for too long I think it would have been much more seriously embarrassing. As it happens, it worked out well."

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said defence cuts meant it was highly unlikely similar operations could go ahead in the next few years.

"It does mean for the next few years it is going to be that much more difficult and improbable that this kind of operation could be mounted if, as is the case at the moment in Afghanistan, we are in some other part of the world as well," he said.

In Libya, Gaddafi remained in hiding but issued a defiant appeal to his supporters to continue to fight.

"We will fight them everywhere," he said. "We will burn the ground under their feet ... Get ready to fight the occupation."

But the National Transitional Council's representative in the UK, Guma El-Gamaty, said Tripoli was "almost" secure now.

"Gaddafi is still at large but he is hiding, he is isolated, he is almost surrounded in possibly one of two small places where we think he is.

"We think it is just a matter of time before he is either apprehended or, if he resisted arrest, he might be killed."

The Ministry of Defence said the RAF had destroyed a military command and control installation in Bani Walid during an armed reconnaissance patrol yesterday.

Major General Nick Pope, the Chief of the Defence Staff's communications officer, said: "In the early hours of yesterday morning, a precision strike there destroyed a military command and control installation, and a couple of hours later, our aircraft identified a pick-up truck armed with a large rocket pod.

"A Brimstone missile destroyed the vehicle, with numerous secondary explosions from the rockets.

"In the afternoon, Tornado GR4s conducted a strike on six buildings in use by former regime forces near Bani Walid, at Qaryat al Mirqib. All six targets were destroyed by Paveway guided bombs.

"Overnight, HMS Liverpool again fired star shells over pro-Gaddafi military positions at Sirte, to demonstrate to those forces which persist in prolonging the conflict that their positions are well known and capable of being targeted."