Jeremy Corbyn has demanded that David Cameron reveal the extent of Britain’s growing military preparations for war in Libya, amid concern that British “seek and destroy” drones may already be operating over the country.
The opposition leader intervened to demand the Prime Minister give MPs an “unequivocal assurance that no decision has been taken to use drones in support of military operations in Libya”.
The Labour leader said that Mr Cameron must also give a “clear commitment” to consult Parliament before “any military intervention” in Libya. This comes in defiance of the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, last week rejecting a demand to keep Parliament informed, sparking concern that drones are being used to gather intelligence for air strikes and a ground campaign later this year.
Reaper drones were used over Syria for up to a year before MPs authorised air strikes against Islamic State (Isis). They were also used to kill British militants fighting in Syria.
The Ministry of Defence has refused to comment on allegations published last week that a team of British military planners visited Libya to plan RAF air strikes against up to 3,000 Isis militants who have taken control of a stretch of coast around the city of Sirte.
A preliminary plan drawn up by Italy envisages a 6,000-strong force sent to Libya, including 1,000 British troops. Eugenio Cusumano, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Leiden, told The Independent on Sunday that Italy was using Reaper drones for “target acquisition”. He added: “Italians are doing a lot of surveillance, identification of targets for possible bombing by the British and Americans.”
A Government source said Isis in Libya “had to be dealt with”, but any military action had to wait until a unity government was formed to invite intervention.
Mr Corbyn said there were “growing signs that the British Government may be preparing to intervene militarily again in Libya”, adding: “The Prime Minister should report to Parliament on what steps have already been taken – and, in particular, whether UK drones are being used to support armed forces or militias in Libya’s civil war by gathering intelligence for one side or the other.
“We need an unequivocal assurance that no decision has been taken to use drones, over which Britain has control or partial control, in support of military operations in Libya. And he must make a clear commitment that MPs will be given the chance to debate in advance any decision to renew British military intervention in Libya.”
In a parliamentary question from the Labour MP David Anderson, Mr Fallon was asked if he would guarantee MPs a debate “in advance of any decision to deploy UK Reaper aircraft outside Syria and Iraq”. The Defence Secretary replied: “No.”
The Ministry of Defence has insisted that Mr Fallon’s response doesn’t necessarily mean Reaper drones are being used. But Admiral Lord West, the former head of the Navy, said this implied an intervention was in the offing. Lord West said: “The Government could have come back and said there will be no action against Libya without full discussion in the House. It leads me to think they will use strikes from a drone in the same way they did in Syria. It would be good to get some clarity on this.”
Former attorney general Dominic Grieve said the use of drones in Syria was authorised to defend neighbouring Iraq, but questioned if it was legal to launch drones over Libya. “If you are going to do it over the sovereign territory or airspace of another country, you’ve either got to do it because you are justified in doing it under the UN Charter and the right to self-defence, or you are doing it because there is an authorisation of the UN Security Council. The other base is that there is an internal armed conflict and that you are intervening at the request of the state concerned.
“If Daesh [Isis] start to control an area of Libya in the same way they control a large area of northern Syria, from which they are directly threatening the UK … then exactly the same conditions may exist for attacks in Libya as currently exist in Syria.”
In an interview with The IoS, the Conservative MP Ken Clarke admits the coalition has failed to plan for Colonel Gaddafi’s defeat in 2011. He says: “With hindsight we should’ve put more effort into trying to help such reasonable people as there were in a position to form a functioning government. Plenty of what we did was quite inadequate. It had all the makings of a disaster and it’s continued to deteriorate ever since.”
A Government spokesman said: “The UK, along with international partners, is supporting the process to form a recognised Libyan government. No decisions have been made about the future deployment of any British military forces to Libya as part of an international coalition force.”
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