5 Nov 2014

Libyan army training fiasco – UK government complacency to blame?

To be fair to David Cameron, it all began life as a genuine response to the reality that NATO has bombed Libya into bloody chaos instead of freedom.

In the wake of that bombing campaign, with rival militias already attacking each otherĀ  even in Tripoli itself, Cameron set out the plan to train an embryonic Libyan Army at the G8 summit at Loch Erne.

The concept was to train around 15,000 via UK, Italian, US and Turkish mentoring.


So far so good, but critical to all this was the vetting and organisation of who precisely we were going to host at Bassingbourn barracks in Cambridgeshire?

We can’t say people didn’t ask the right questions at this crucial point. Hansard reveals that on 16 July 2013 the SNP MP Angus Robertson asked the Defence Minister Andrew Robathan just what kind of vetting of recruits would be done, first by the Libyans and second the UK?

Here is Mr Robathan’s answer:

“The Ministry of Defence has been working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office to ensure that security and immigration controls will be maintained on those who arrive to undertake training.

“Her Majesty’s Government has asked the Libyan authorities to screen fully all trainees for medical, physical and behavioural suitability. Trainees who do not pass the vetting or immigration assurance process will not be allowed to travel to the UK.”

Seriously? So the entire vetting process for recruits was to be left to the “government” of a country spiralling down into chaos, with no meaningful government or governance to speak of.

But that is what the man said.

The MoD and FCO knew Libya was a mess very well. It was on the TV news most nights. Everybody knew. So how could any credible vetting possibly arise from the Libyans?

Thus it is obvious any vetting would be lamentable. And about has proven to be.

The Libyans reneged on deals to pay for the upgrade of Bassingbourn. Recruits from different factions and tribes bickered and fought before they even arrived here.

A US training scheme in-country failed to train a single soldier.

And at Bassingbourn? The stats tell the tale:

2000 recruits were due to be trained.

About 300 came in the summer.

90 had already been sen home by 30 October because they had no interest in being soldiers.

20 are believed to want asylum here though officials won’t deny or confirm this.

Five will remain after at least 11 reported sexual assaults and other crimes.

Two of those have admitted sexually assaulting women in Cambridge city centre.

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