UK military deployed to Libya as EU mulls sending 1,000 humanitarian troops

The UK today announced it is sending 'experienced British military officers' to support and advise Libya's rebels. The Libyan government says it will fight any foreign troops on its soil.

Michel Euler/AP
British Prime Minister David Cameron (l.) is welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on April 13. Last week, President Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a joint statement that, in order to secure the safety of civilians and the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Libya, 'Qaddafi must go and go for good.'

• A summary of global reports.

Britain is sending a military team to Benghazi to bolster its diplomatic team already on the ground in the rebel capital of Libya, according to a statement today from the British foreign secretary. The European Union is also preparing to send troops for humanitarian assistance if requested by the United Nations.

The moves may be setting the scene for a clash with Libyan forces, as The Washington Post reported the Libyan government said today that it will fight any foreign troops on its soil.

“If there is any deployment of any armed personnel on Libyan ground, there will be fighting,” Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told reporters at a news conference in Tripoli. “The Libyan government will not take it as a humanitarian mission. It will be taken as a military mission.”

Nearly a month after imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, today's announcements appear to mark a new international commitment to bolstering the Western presence in Libya. They come as the rebel city of Misurata sustains withering attacks, highlighting the limited success of NATO and Western nations in protecting the rebels and beating back Col. Muammar Qaddafi's forces.

The British military team will not train, arm, or help plan the military operations of the Libyan rebels that rose up in mid-February against the more than 40-year rule of Colonel Qaddafi. The deployment follows previous reports of US and British intelligence officials working clandestinely in the country's rebel-controlled east to support the National Transitional Council (NTC).

"This contingent will be drawn from experienced British military officers," Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement today. "These additional personnel will enable the UK to build on the work already being undertaken to support and advise the NTC on how to better protect civilians. In particular they will advise the NTC on how to improve their military organizational structures, communications, and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance. In doing so, we will coordinate closely with other international partners also assisting the NTC."

Mr. Hague insisted that the new "deployment is fully within the terms of" United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes all necessary measures to civilian populated areas under threat of attack from Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

"Consistent with our obligations under that Resolution, our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition’s fighting forces. Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the NTC’s military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice," Hague said

Britain has in recent weeks already supplied nonlethal assistance, such as telecommunications equipment and protective body armor. A diplomatic team led by Christopher Prentice, the British ambassador to Italy, is already working in Benghazi.

The military and diplomatic teams appear specifically aimed at increasing the rebels' technical capacity. The Monitor's Dan Murphy, who has reported from Libya during much of the campaign, said, "the rebels don’t need arms so much as technical and tactical training in how to use them, the creation of some kind of communications network, and a command structure that might help them become a cohesive fighting force."

The BBC reports that 10 officers will provide logistics and intelligence training in a UK and French operation. French commitment to the operation appears in question, however, with Foreign Minister Alain Juppe today saying that France is opposed to the idea of sending its troops into Libya to break the military stalemate.

Mr. Juppe told reporters that he opposed the idea of sending military troops to Libya, reports Reuters. The military situation is "difficult" and "confused," he said, and the West has underestimated Qaddafi.

The European Union is drawing up plans to send up to 1,000 troops to secure the delivery of aid supplies and potentially fight if their humanitarian work was threatened, reports The Guardian. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's office has drawn up a 61-page operations plan that only awaits authorization from the UN body the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

On April 14, President Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a joint statement that, in order to secure the safety of civilians and the transition from dictatorship to democracy, "Qaddafi must go and go for good."

It is still unclear how this will come about. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ruled out any ground intervention. NATO has taken the lead on enforcing a no-fly zone, and today reportedly bombed several targets near the Libyan capital Tripoli.

CNN reports that more than 10,000 people have been killed so far in the Libyan conflict and more than 55,000 have been injured, according to rebel authorities.

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