Last week, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon tried to put to bed questions about whether Britain is planning to deploy the Army to Libya, where, just 200 miles from Europe, Isis has flourished amid a permanent state of chaos after the 2011 Nato-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
Fallon said Britain is not planning a “combat role” for British troops in Libya; if the army were to be deployed in Libya, Parliament would discuss it first.
But just two days after his comments the Times reported that British Special Air Service troops are already in Libya and were seen earlier in May blowing up an Isis vehicle laden with explosives near Misrata.
I first revealed in March that SAS troops were operating in Libya. What is still not clear is who exactly Britain is fighting alongside in a country that doesn’t have an effective government or army.
No one can deny that the threat to the world posed by Isis is stark and that military action is needed to stem the group’s growth across the Middle East and North Africa. However, the Government is not allowing the British public to know anything about where it is deploying British troops in the Middle East, and what they are doing in our name.
Over the past year there have been reports of SAS forces operating in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya – as well as advising allies in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Parliament hasn’t been informed about any of these deployments, let alone been given the opportunity to debate them and to decide if this military strategy is in the best interests of the British people.
The idea of collective responsibility in our democracy works only when we know what is being done in our name. As British citizens, we cannot be responsible for wars that our Government won’t tell us about. But we can certainly feel their consequences.
The Foreign Office website is already filled with warnings in its travel advice section, which include the information that British citizens are a target for terrorist groups across the world.
One of the reasons British people are targeted abroad is because of our Army’s visible presence in other countries. And now, without our knowledge, British soldiers are being deployed in numerous countries across the Middle East.
The Government ought to open up about its war against Isis. As Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, recently told me, the Government cannot keep SAS operations secret for ever.
Blunt said SAS operations require a veil of secrecy if they are to be effective – and he is correct – but he argued that, when those operations form part of a wider military strategy, that military strategy should be scrutinised and overseen by Parliament.
Going to war is one of the most important decisions a country can take. The British people deserve to know where our Government is sending our troops, what the danger is, and what it is they hope to achieve by sending them into battle on our behalf.
It’s time for a parliamentary debate about Britain’s secret wars in the Middle East.
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