Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973

1.France led the international community in advancing the case for military intervention in Libya in February and March 2011. UK policy followed decisions taken in France. (Paragraph 23)

The evidence base: intelligence

2.The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda. (Paragraph 28)

The evidence base: our assessment

3.We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya. It may be that the UK Government was unable to analyse the nature of the rebellion in Libya due to incomplete intelligence and insufficient institutional insight and that it was caught up in events as they developed. It could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion. UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence. (Paragraph 38)

The basis for intervention: did it change?

4.The UK’s intervention in Libya was reactive and did not comprise action in pursuit of a strategic objective. This meant that a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into a policy of regime change by military means. (Paragraph 49)

The basis for intervention: were political alternatives explored?

5.Political options were available if the UK Government had adhered to the spirit of Resolution 1973, implemented its original campaign plan and influenced its coalition allies to pause military action when Benghazi was secured in March 2011. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at lesser cost to the UK and to Libya. If political engagement had been unsuccessful, the UK and its coalition allies would not have lost anything. Instead, the UK Government focused exclusively on military intervention. In particular, we saw no evidence that it tried to exploit former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s contacts and influence with the Gaddafi regime. (Paragraph 57)

Decision making

6.We note former Prime Minister David Cameron’s decisive role when the National Security Council discussed intervention in Libya. We also note that Lord Richards implicitly dissociated himself from that decision in his oral evidence to this inquiry. The Government must commission an independent review of the operation of the NSC. This review should consider the merits of introducing a formal mechanism to allow non-ministerial NSC members to request prime ministerial direction to undertake actions agreed in the NSC. It should be informed by the conclusions of the Iraq Inquiry and examine whether the weaknesses in governmental decision-making in relation to the Iraq intervention in 2003 have been addressed by the introduction of the NSC. (Paragraph 66)


7.The Libyan state weakened its own limited institutional capacity by paying militias to provide security. The growth of state-funded militias with local rather than national loyalties was a key destabilising factor after 2011. (Paragraph 72)

8.The FCO should lead the international community to review whether the United Nations is the appropriate body to co-ordinate stabilisation and reconstruction in a post-conflict environment and whether it has the appropriate resources, and if not to identify alternatives that could be more effective. Such a review is a practical and urgent requirement, because the United Nations might be asked to co-ordinate a similar mission in Syria, Yemen or Iraq in the near future. (Paragraph 75)

Reconstruction: resources

9.The level of funding provided by the international community and the UK was not the decisive factor in the collapse of the Libyan state. Nevertheless a key problem was institutional incapacity to absorb financial and other resources provided by the international community, and this is something that should have been foreseen and planned for. (Paragraph 83)

Securing weapons

10.The international community’s inability to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime fuelled instability in Libya and enabled and increased terrorism across North and West Africa and the Middle East. The UK Government correctly identified the need to secure weapons immediately after the 2011 Libyan civil war, but it and its international partners took insufficient action to achieve that objective. However, it is probable that none of the states that intervened in Libya would have been prepared to commit the necessary military and political resources to secure stocks of weapons and ammunition. That consideration should have informed their calculation to intervene. (Paragraph 88)

A failure of strategy

11.We recognise that the damaging experience of post-war intervention in Iraq engendered an understandable reluctance to impose solutions in Libya. However, because the UK along with France led the military intervention, it had a particular responsibility to support Libyan economic and political reconstruction, which became an impossible task because of the failure to establish security on the ground. (Paragraph 92)

Migration: Economic migrants and refugees

12.The FCO must set out and re-examine the evidence base underpinning its assertion in October 2014 that “planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean …create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”. It must also assess whether planned search and rescue operations encouraged migrants to cross the Mediterranean in the first half of 2016 in the light of people smugglers’ current methods of operation in relation to international search and rescue. It should support Italian and wider European efforts to secure the agreement of countries of origin to accept, where possible, the repatriation of irregular migrants who have arrived in Europe but do not meet asylum criteria, as well as the need to tackle the main factors fuelling the desire to migrate. Given its role in the conflict and subsequent destabilisation in Libya, the UK has a particular responsibility in relation to migrants and refugees, an issue which has been exacerbated by the collapse of the Libyan state. (Paragraph 105)

ISIL in Libya

13.While defeating all manifestations of violent extremism should remain a UK Government priority, the primary objective in Libya should be to support a central authority that can deliver greater stability, address the root causes of extremism and act as an effective partner in the common struggle against militant groups. (Paragraph 117)

Arms embargo

14.Regional actors have destabilised Libya and are fuelling internal conflict by exporting weapons and ammunition to proxy militias in contravention of the United Nations arms embargo. We welcome the Anglo-French initiative in the United Nations Security Council to extend the remit of Operation Sophia to include the inspection of suspicious vessels travelling to Libya.The FCO must continue collaborating with United Nations, European Union and NATO partners to maintain the arms embargo and work to influence states in the region to cease arms exports to Libyan militias. (Paragraph 121)


15.UK forces might play a useful role in training the Libyan Army and security forces, but any such deployment must be configured to ensure that it does not boost anti-Western rhetoric or provide ISIL with a relatively accessible target. British troops should not be deployed to Libya in a training role until the GNA has established political control, stabilised internal security and made a formal request to the UK Government for such assistance, which should then be considered by the UK Parliament. (Paragraph 127)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

9 September 2016