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David Cameron's Libya war 'spurred growth of Islamic State', MPs say in damning report

David Cameron addresses crowds in Benghazi, Libya, in 2011. Credit: PA Wire

David Cameron's "ill-conceived" intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, and ultimately led to the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS), a damning report from MPs has concluded.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said Cameron's 2011 military campaign to oust Muammar Gaddafi lacked a coherent strategy for the aftermath of the leader's removal, and helped trigger the refugee crisis after Libya's collapse.

MPs accused Cameron of taking Britain to war against Gaddafi on a number of "erroneous assumptions", and then embarking on an "opportunistic" regime change policy that stoked chaos in the country.

  • Video report by ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omar

The report, which comes just a day after Cameron resigned as an MP, said "insufficient action" was taken to secure weapons abandoned by the Gaddafi regime, which contributed to "increased terrorism" across the region.

MPs said in the report: "We have seen no evidence that the UK government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya.

“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."

Nicolas Sarkozy (L), David Cameron (C) and then National Transitional Council (NTC) head Mustafa Abdul Jalil (R) join hands in Benghazi in 2011. Credit: PA Wire

The committee's report is the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, and echoes some of the criticisms levelled against Tony Blair about his policy and actions regarding the conflict.

It also underlines US president Barack Obama's claim that Britain and France lost interest in Libya once its leader was overthrown.

Cameron refused to give evidence to the select committee, and has blamed the Libyan people for not taking their chance at democracy.

The report also concluded:

  • There was no attempt to “pause military action” when Benghazi had been secured and seek a deal to protect civilians and reform Libya
  • Many Libyans had taken part in the Iraq insurgency and fought with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, meaning the rise of militant extremist groups “should not have been the preserve of hindsight”
  • Cameron should have been required to issue a formal “ministerial direction” to intervene

Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “The UK's actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today.

"Other political options were available. Political engagement might have delivered civilian protection, regime change and reform at a lesser cost to the UK and Libya.”

Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government fire weapons during a battle with IS in July 2016. Credit: Reuters

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman said the decision to intervene in Libya was an "international one, called for by the Arab League and authorised by the United Nations Security Council".

"Muammar Gaddafi was unpredictable, and he had the means and motivation to carry out his threats," the spokesman said.

"His actions could not be ignored, and required decisive and collective international action. Throughout the campaign, we stayed within the United Nations mandate to protect civilians."

The FCO spokesman added that £10 million has been allocated this year to help the new UK government restore stability, rebuild the economy, defeat IS, and tackle criminal gangs that "threaten the security of Libyans and exploit illegal migrants."

Shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said that Mr Cameron had not learnt from "the mistakes made in Iraq" and that they had been repeated "with the same catastrophic consequences".

She continued: "Yet again, the warnings of experts in the region were ignored, and - behind the immediate justification for intervention - there was a hidden goal of regime change for which there was no legal basis and no parliamentary approval, and which abused the UN mandate for action.

"But worst of all, just as in Iraq, there was no credible plan for what would happen after the regime was toppled, and no anticipation of the dreadful risks that creating that power vacuum would hold, resulting in the all-too familiar pattern of factional conflicts, terrorist insurgence, and regional destabilisation that we have seen ever since.

"For a British government - of any party - to repeat those exact same mistakes less than a decade after the fall of Baghdad shows a staggering lack of awareness. But sadly, for David Cameron to do so was all too predictable.

"He will be remembered in history as a deeply reckless and complacent prime minister, who time and again acted impetuously, worried about the consequences later, and left others to clear up the mess he had created."