Black Watch 'on 24-hour standby' to intervene if Libyan crisis worsens

The soldiers of the Black Watch are on standby for deployment to Libya at 24 hours' notice if the crisis escalates, it emerged last night.

The 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, is on "notice to move" as part of the military build-up in the southern Mediterranean.

British sources said that although the battalion was being made ready, there were no immediate plans to fly troops to Libya. The soldiers would be used for humanitarian operations, such as organising food supplies, or for emergency evacuations rather than put into combat, the sources added.

UK officials are also set to fly to Benghazi in eastern Libya to build contacts with key opposition figures and assess the strength of resistance to the regime. Supplying them with weapons has been firmly ruled out, despite David Cameron's earlier suggestion that the step could be considered.

However, the British team could also provide advice to opposition figures on how to defend themselves and even on how to step up their resistance to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

The military hardware rapidly assembled to rescue UK nationals trapped in Libya over the past fortnight is to remain in the region despite the evacuation of all but a "handful" of Britons who want to leave the country. It includes two Royal Navy ships, airborne early warning and control systems, aircraft and Chinook helicopters. Senior officers in the UK have stressed that given the armed forces' commitment in Afghanistan and defence cutbacks there are no resources for another foreign military operation.

They will also be wary of "mission creep" – a situation in which troops sent in to secure an airfield to bring in aid, for example, get sucked into the conflict – and of breaking international law. Libyan television has paraded a Dutch helicopter crew, who had been captured on an evacuation mission, and stated that they had entered the country illegally.

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