UK Foreign Minister quite not open about British troops deployment plan in Libya

Foreign secretary is accused of lacking openness over troop deployment and faces call for Commons statement

Philip Hammond. Photograph: KHAM/Reuters
Philip Hammond. Photograph: KHAM/Reuters

Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, has been accused of a lack of openness as he faces fresh calls to set out plans for troop deployments in Libya.

A testy letter from the foreign affairs select committee charges Hammond with being less than candid, not straightforward, and leaking details of their correspondence to the media.

The call for a statement came as the newly installed Libyan government held back from an immediate request for the use of western ground troops to combat the growing threat of Islamic State in the north of the country and help stabilise the oil-rich country riven by five years of civil war. A unity government has been installed in Tripoli under the leadership of Fayez al-Sarraj but it is still struggling to win over all factions, including the rival parliament in Tobruk.

The chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Crispin Blunt, wrote to Hammond on Tuesday saying his committee remained “deeply concerned about potential British involvement in Libya”.

He repeated his request for Hammond to make a full Commons statement on current UK deployment in Libya and future plans as well as to set out his assessment of the effectiveness of the Government of National Accord, the new UN-recognised body claiming to run the country.

Blunt had originally raised with Hammond the issue of the British contribution to a Libyan International Assistance Mission after a briefing with UK embassy officials in Tunis and Cairo suggested as many as 1,000 UK troops are due to be deployed.

In his letter he writes: “The welcome candour of the briefings by all who we met in Tunis and Cairo contrasts with the less than candid reply to my request for detail on a rapidly developing situation that may require further active British engagement.”

He adds that the diplomatic challenge in Libya can only be made more difficult by the Foreign Office not dealing straightforwardly with parliament.

In a letter briefed to a Sunday newspaper, Hammond had accused Blunt of misunderstanding or enhancing briefings with UK diplomats in Tunis and Cairo. But Blunt in his letter claimed Hammond’s denials were so narrowly drawn “as to be wholly and deliberately misleading to the uninformed reader”.

He adds that Hammond’s carefully chosen words “ignored the fact that the briefing came from a British source working at the direction of the defence attaché and witnessed by British diplomats”.

Blunt also rejects any suggestion that UK deployments would be routine, and not a conflict deployment.

“Libya is a failed state experiencing a multi-front civil war so any deployment of British troops would by definition be a conflict deployment.”

The US military claimed this week that the number of Isis fighters in Libya has doubled in the past year to between 4,000 and 6,000. The west is initially focusing on providing humanitarian aid before offering a stabilisation force designed to train a national Libyan army, protect oil installations and demobilise militias.

The Italian foreign minister, Paulo Gentiloni, visited Tripoli on Tuesday amid growing concerns about the number of refugees being picked up in boats off the Italian coast.

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