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Is Britain going to war in Libya?

A letter sent round Westminster started alarm bells ringing this evening.

A Libyan soldier at Wadi Bey, where troops are manning outposts, west of the Islamic State-controlled city of Sirte Credit: Ismail Zetouni/Reuters

It was from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In it he asked the Foreign Secretary to confirm two reports. Firstly that the new Libyan Government was about to ask the UK to launch airstrikes against ISIL in Libya. Secondly that Britain would, this week, offer a thousand troops to support the Libyan Government.

Now a Foreign Office source immediately poured cold water on the timing of this saying a Libyan national unity government was still "weeks if not months" from being formed. Once such a government was in place, and things are heading in that direction, then the UN could talk to them about what kind of assistance they needed.

Crispin Blunt MP is calling for the government to tell parliament what is happening regarding the plan for Libya.

But beyond that things get more interesting. MOD sources have indicated that an Italian-lead training and assistance mission is under consideration. The MOD sources also say that, if asked and under the right circumstances, they would be able to provide around 1000 troops to that mission.

The same sources say that airstrikes against ISIL in Libya are not currently being planned.

So something is going on and there is a high likelihood that if the Libyans can get their act together then British troops could be headed for North Africa. Just not yet.

Response from a Government spokesperson:

"What members of the Foreign Affairs Committee heard on their recent visit is wrong on a number of counts. There are no plans to extend airstrikes to Libya nor are there plans to send British troops to provide security on the ground in Libya. It is therefore also wrong to suggest the Defence Secretary will agree any UK contribution this week."