White House praises David Cameron after Barack Obama's criticism on Libya

Barack Obama has blamed David Cameron in part for the "mess" in Libya Credit: PA

The White House has said Barack Obama "deeply values" David Cameron's contributions to world events after the US President was highly critical of the Prime Minister in a magazine interview.

Mr Obama accused Mr Cameron of being "distracted" during the Libya conflict and said he was partly responsible for turning the country into a "mess".

He also said Mr Cameron was among a number of European allies who had been "free riders" in international events led by the US.

Barack Obama said David Cameron became 'distracted by other things' in the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Credit: PA Wire

US National Security Council spokesperson Edward Price, speaking on behalf of the US administration, attempted to play down the comments.

He told ITV News that Mr Cameron has been "as close a partner as the President has had" while in office.

Barack Obama criticised former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron for the desperate situation in Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Credit: PA Wire

The US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, later tweeted the relationship between the two nations remains "essential" in dealing with a range of international issues.

But Mr Obama's comments provoked an angry reaction from one of Mr Cameron's former Cabinet colleagues.

Alan Duncan, who served in the Department for International Development between 2010 and 2014, hit out at the US President on Twitter.

Mr Obama had made the comments during a lengthy interview on foreign policy with The Atlantic magazine and became animated as questions turned to Libya.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, pictured before the 2011 military intervention Credit: Reuters

The American military - alongside forces from Europe including Britain - carried out airstrikes across the African nation in 2011 in response to threats of slaughter from then-dictator Muammar Gaddafi against the people of Benghazi.

No massacre took place and Gaddafi was arrested and executed, but subsequent attempts to establish a democratic leadership have repeatedly failed.

Mr Obama said the plan had been executed "as well as I could have expected", but added: "Despite all that, Libya is a mess."

Part of that, he said, was because he had had "more faith in the Europeans... being invested in the follow-up."

The article reported Mr Obama privately labels the situation in Libya a "s***-show" - with former French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron holding particular responsibility for this.

Mr Sarkozy lost his job within months, he told the magazine, and Mr Cameron became "distracted by a range of other things".

He then accused his European allies of being "free riders".

Barack Obama said he had warned David Cameron that Britain's special relationship status would end unless it committed to a certain level of defence spending. Credit: PA

"At that point [in 2011], you’ve got Europe and a number of Gulf countries who despise Gaddafi, or are concerned on a humanitarian basis, who are calling for action," he told the magazine.

"But what has been a habit over the last several decades in these circumstances is people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game."

Further in the article, while discussing defence spending, he repeated his "free riders" comment, saying: "[They] aggravate me."

He told the magazine he had warned Mr Cameron that Britain's "special relationship" with the US would effectively be over if it did not commit to spending at least two per cent of its GDP on defence.

Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said the Prime Minister had made clear many times that he still believes military intervention in Libya was "absolutely the right thing to do", and said he had put support for the country on the agenda when the UK hosted the G8 in Northern Ireland in 2013.

US spokesperson Price told ITV News the UK's contributions to world events remained highly valued at the White House.