24 Aug 2011

Libya campaign ‘initially a mess’ – Whitehall source

As regime change unfolds in Libya, Channel 4 News also learns a recent intelligence assessment believed Gaddafi would still be in power in September.

Chancellor George Osborne and Defence Secretary Liam Fox at the Cabinet table. Whitehall sources described the initial Libya campaign as

A senior Whitehall official told Channel 4 News just a few weeks ago that the Libya campaign was initially a “mess” and added that the pace of change recently had taken some governments by surprise.

It followed repeated claims by Foreign Secretary William Hague that the Gaddafi regime was “crumbling”, which seemed to contradict a feeling of military stalemate on the ground.

The official said it was feared that David Cameron was repeating the mistakes of Tony Blair, in a reference to the decisions surrounding the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

According to one recent intelligence assessment it was believed Gaddafi would still be in power in Tripoli in September, choosing between rival peace initiatives brokered by the African Union amongst others.

Gary Gibbon blog: No 'mission accomplished' moment for Cameron

Although Nato bombings have made the rebel advance of the last few days possible, the speed of the regime’s collapse has caught many western governments by surprise.

Although it is never easy to predict how long a conflict is likely to last, it appears that initial Government statements on the Libyan situation were optimistic. Chancellor George Osborne told Parliament in March that the Government expected the operation to cost tens of millions of pounds, suggesting that it was expected that the engagement would not be lengthy. It was subsequently revealed that the conflict will cost £260m over six months.

Botched SAS mission

There had been some criticism earlier in the campaign when it was revealed that a team of special forces had been captured by suspicous locals near Benghazi.

At the time there former UK ambassador to Libya, Sir Oliver Miles, described the mission, which had been authorised by Mr Hague, as “bizarre”.

A former SAS soldier told Channel 4 News the incursion was “amateurish and rash”. He said: “Nobody goes in cold like that. It seems very naive and very badly-planned.”