Minister says UK would back national unity government in Libya


Britain stands ready to support a government of national unity in Libya in taking on Islamic State (IS), a foreign office minister has said.

Giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Tobias Ellwood said the Government had no plans to commit British troops directly against IS - also referred to as Daesh or Isis.

However, he said that the UK was prepared to provide advice, support and training to the Libyan military if political agreement could be reached on the formation of a new government of national unity.

He disclosed that RAF warplanes had already been involved in flying missions over the country but gave no further details.

"There are discussions being had as to what we can do to facilitate assistance once a government is actually formed as to what we can do to advise, assist, support and train. We are not going in there to hold and take ground," he said.

"We are looking for a political agreement. Once that is in place we can then work towards providing assistance to the Libyan national army which absolutely can provide greater defences and take Daesh out."

Jonathan Powell, the UK special envoy to Libya, said that it should be possible to establish a coalition of armed groups to take on IS - which has established a stronghold in the city of Sirte.

"There are a number of armed groups there sitting next to Isis who are more threatened than we are who have the capacity to deal with it but they need to be united, they need a common cause if they are going to do something," he said.

However Mr Ellwood warned that while the rise of IS represented the biggest long-term threat to the future of Libya, the danger was not fully understood in the country.

"Currently, as a militia, as an entity, it is quite small in comparison with some of the other militias that are there already," he said.

"I don't think it's seen as such a priority at this stage by the people in that country who just see this as another, more extremist, militia.

"The absence of a government is allowing them to get a footprint in and once they have got a footprint it then becomes easier for them to expand."