Philip Hammond plays down suggestions of UK frontline role in Libya


British warplanes and battleships could be deployed to counter Islamic State (IS) in Libya although frontline fighting is not expected for UK troops, Philip Hammond has said.

The Foreign Secretary said it is "quite possible" the fledgling government of national accord (GNA) would request air and naval support to combat IS, also referred to as Daesh, as it will not be able to develop its own forces of this nature. 

Mr Hammond added no request or talks on such a military deployment have taken place but he said the UK would consider the idea if it is proposed and indicated MPs would be allowed a vote.

His refusal to rule out air and naval operations in the region came after he insisted there is "no appetite" in Libya for foreign combat troops on the ground.

Mr Hammond said the UK is willing to send troops to help train and support the GNA's forces, adding: "We do not anticipate any requests from the GNA for ground combat forces to take on Daesh or any other armed groups and we have no plans to deploy troops in such a role.

"I will of course keep the House informed of any plans we develop in the future in response to requests from the Libyan government.

"But the type of mission that we currently envisage would be focused on providing training and technical support away from any frontline operations."

Labour MP Mike Gapes (Ilford South) later told Mr Hammond: "You said that there's no appetite in Libya for foreign combat troops on the ground.

"Is there any appetite in the Libyan political system for foreign air forces or foreign naval forces operating in Libyan territorial waters?"

Mr Hammond replied: "I think we've seen on the latter point already a clear wariness of any suggestion of foreign naval forces operating in Libyan territorial waters even if the focus is counter-migration rather than counter-Daesh.

"I can't rule out, and it would be wrong to rule out, any future request for air or naval support to a counter-Daesh operation.

"I can envisage prime minister (Fayez) Sarraj, if his government is successful, being able to muster enough ground forces to mount an attack on the Daesh stronghold around Sirte.

"Sirte is a coastal port, of course, and it's certainly the case that the Libyans will not be able to develop either naval or air assets in any reasonable period of time to support such an operation.

"Indeed, it is quite possible that from a military point of view they would seek assistance from outside.

"Now, prime minister Sarraj would have to balance that military imperative with the political issues that would arise if he were to request foreign assistance.

"There has been no such request, no discussion of such a request, but if it comes we will consider it and if we think that the UK should participate in such action we will come to the House and allow the House to express an opinion through a vote."

Mr Hammond made a statement to the House of Commons after visiting the troubled North African state in a show of support for prime minister-designate Sarraj's administration on Monday.