Operations in Libya - Defence Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. At the outset of our Report, we wish to pay tribute to the UK Armed Forces and civilian personnel who contributed to operations in Libya. They continue to impress us with the courage, dedication and professionalism with which they undertook this operation which we are convinced saved thousands of civilian lives. We also wish to acknowledge the contribution of the families of Armed Forces personnel.


2. In February 2011, civilian unrest and protests against Colonel Gaddafi's regime began in Libya. On 24 February the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force began evacuating UK nationals from Libya.[1] In the space of a few days, the UK was able to evacuate over 800 UK nationals and over 1,000 other nationals.[2] On 26 February, an arms embargo on Libya was adopted in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970. On 5 March, the Libyan opposition to Colonel Gaddafi officially established the National Transitional Council (NTC). On 17 March, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which reinforced and tightened the arms embargo, established a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace and authorised "all necessary measures [...] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory".[3] The weekend of 19-20 March saw US, British and French military action to establish the no-fly zone over Libya begin under the names Operation Odyssey Dawn [US], Operation ELLAMY [UK] and Operation Harmattan [FR]. On 31 March, NATO took command of the operation under the name Operation Unified Protector (OUP). Operations concluded on 31 October 2011, after the capture and death of Colonel Gaddafi in Sirte on 20 October and the declaration of liberation by the National Transitional Council on 23 October. A detailed timeline of operations in Libya is below.

15 February 2011
Protests begin in Benghazi against the Gaddafi regime, and in the following days spread across Libya
23 February-

1 March
Chartered planes, military flights and military ships evacuate British and other nationals from Libya
26 February
UN passes Resolution 1970 imposing an arms embargo and other arms restrictions, freezing the assets of the Gaddafi family, and referring the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court
5 March
Libyan opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) established and convenes first meeting
6 March
Counter-offensive launched by Gaddafi, retaking Ras Lanuf and Brega and pushing towards Ajdabiya and Benghazi
8 March
NATO steps up its surveillance operations in the central Mediterranean, deploying AWACS aircraft to provide round-the-clock observation of movements in Libyan airspace
10 March
France recognises NTC as 'legitimate representative of the Libyan people'
12 March
Arab League requests that the UN Security Council impose a No Fly Zone in Libyan airspace
17 March
UN passes Resolution 1973 authorising a No Fly Zone over Libya; China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil abstain
19 March
US, UK and French military assets begin bombing campaign. First RAF Tornado aircraft arrive at Gioia del Colle, Southern Italy
20 March
French carrier Charles de Gaulle leaves Toulon Naval Base for Libya. First RAF Typhoon aircraft arrive at Gioia del Colle, Southen Italy
21 March
The House of Commons votes in favour of military action to implement UNSCR 1973
23 March
NATO ships and aircraft begin operating in the central Mediterranean to enforce the arms embargo by sea
24 March
NATO decides to enforce the UN-mandated No Fly Zone
25 March
NATO takes over from the US command enforcing the No Fly Zone
31 March
NATO takes command of coalition air operations in Libya. Subsequent operations are carried out as part of Operation Unified Protector
13 April
First meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Doha
14 April
First meeting of the Cairo Group of International Organisations. Foreign Ministers from NATO Allies and non-NATO contributors meet in Berlin; they commit to using all necessary resources and maximum operational flexibility to meet the UN mandate until such time as all attacks on civilians and civilian-populated areas have ended, the Gaddafi regime withdraws all military and para-military forces to bases, and the Gaddafi regime permits immediate, full, safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid for the Libyan people
19 April
UK announces it is sending military advisers to Libya to help the opposition forces improve their organisation and communications, but not to train or arm them
30 April
NATO airstrike reported to have killed Gaddafi's youngest son and three of his grandchildren. Subsequent attacks on British and other Embassies.
26 May
NATO warplanes bomb more than twenty targets in Tripoli; widely described as the heaviest attack on the city since the campaigns began
1 June
International Commission of Inquiry into the Human Rights situation in Libya says that both Government forces and the opposition have committed war crimes in Libya, but notes fewer reports from opposition forces
4 June
First strikes by UK Apache attack helicopters, near the town of Brega
27 June
International Criminal Court issues a warrant for the arrest of Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and head of intelligence Abdullah Senussi
29 June
French military officials confirm that weapons have been air-dropped to opposition forces in the Nafusa Mountains
15 July
Libya Contact Group meets in Istanbul. Recognises NTC as the "legitimate governing authority in Libya"
27 July
UK recognises NTC
20 August
Opposition forces push into Tripoli
22-23 August
Tripoli falls; Opposition forces enter Gaddafi's compound in Bab al-Aziza
5 September
Paris Conference on Libya; over 60 countries attend
16 September
UNSCR 2009 agreed by consensus: establishes a UN mission in Libya and creates a mechanism for unfreezing assets. Leaves mandate to protect civilians in place. UN General Assembly votes in favour of NTC taking up the Libyan seat at the UN.
21 September
NATO extends Operation Unified Protector for up to 90 days
20 October
Colonel Gaddafi and his son Mutassim captured and killed in Sirte
23 October
Liberation declared by NTC Chair Abdul Jalil
28 October
NATO agrees to end military action on 31 October
31 October
End of NATO Operation Unified Protector

Data sources: Accidental Heroes: Britain, France and the Libya Operation, Interim RUSI Campaign Report, September 2011; Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser's Review of Central Co-ordination and Lessons Learned, December 2011

Parliamentary approval

3. The Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on 18 March which outlined UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and the UK's intention to contribute to operations.[4] Military operations by UK Armed Forces commenced the following day. A vote in the House of Commons on 21 March gave approval for military action, with 557 Ayes to 13 Noes. However, the Government faced some criticism that Parliament had not been recalled on Saturday 19 March to give approval prior to deployment of UK forces.[5]

4. We support the principle that Parliament should whenever possible be consulted and authorise the use of military force prior to its deployment. However, given the Prime Minister's statement on 18 March 2011 and the debate in the House of Commons on 21 March and that urgent action was required to safeguard civilians in Libya, we are content that Parliament was consulted as soon as practicable.

Our Inquiry

5. On 27 April 2011, we held a one-off evidence session with the then Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, and Ministry of Defence officials, to examine how the operation was progressing and the role and contribution of UK Armed Forces. That evidence is published with this report. On 19 July, with operations still ongoing, we announced an inquiry into the effectiveness of the operation and the role of UK Forces in Libya. We were particularly interested in establishing:

  • the effectiveness of the continuing mission to protect civilians in Libya—the extent and success of coordination of efforts with French and US forces in particular;
  • the costs of the operation and its implications for other UK operations;
  • how capability decisions taken in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and subsequent policy documents had affected the UK contribution in Libya;
  • the implications of this operation for the outcomes of the SDSR;
  • the effectiveness of NATO command structures in the preparation and conduct of operations in Libya;
  • the "end game": what would a successful outcome look like and how did current operations contribute to achieving this?;
  • the extent to which the UK and NATO were interacting with and supporting the opposition forces in Libya;
  • whether the necessary planning was being done to ensure the long-term stability of Libya when the military effort was completed;
  • what was the exit strategy?;
  • the contributions of allies and partner nations in delivering a successful military intervention; and
  • the broader implications of the intervention in Libya in the context of reacting to instability in the wider region.

6. Although our inquiry focused mainly on operational aspects of the mission, we were also keen to examine wider issues arising from the mission such as how the capability decisions in the SDSR and subsequent announcements had affected the UK contribution to operations in Libya. Our Report covers the development and adoption of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and NATO's operational implementation of the Resolutions, including command and control structures and decisions, and the potential impact on the future of the Alliance, particularly the involvement of non-member nations. We then discuss the UK's involvement in, and the lessons learned from, the mission.

7. We held three oral evidence sessions and our witnesses included the former Secretary of State for Defence, the Minister for the Armed Forces, the UK Permanent Representatives to the UN and the North Atlantic Council, the UK Military Representative to NATO, the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Air Staff. We received written evidence from 12 individuals and organisations. We are grateful to all those who submitted evidence to our inquiry. A list of our witnesses and those who submitted written evidence can be found on pages 68-69. We are also grateful for the assistance of our Specialist Advisers and staff during this inquiry.[6]

1   Ev 53 Back

2   HM Government, Libya Crisis: National Security Adviser's Review of Central Co-ordination and Lessons Learned, December 2011. Available at: www.number10.gov.uk/news/report-on-libya/  Back

3   The full text of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 are available at: www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions11.htm  Back

4   HC Deb, 18 March 2011, cols 611-613 Back

5   For example, see Early Day Motion 1560 of Session 2010-12 and also HC Deb, 21 March 2011, col 699 Back

6   The Specialist Advisers' declarations of relevant interests are recorded in the Committee's Formal Minutes which are available on the Committee's website. Back

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Prepared 8 February 2012