London: As intense fighting brought Libya
close to a civil war, British Prime Minister David Cameron has
threatened the country's strongman Muammar Gaddafi with
military action by imposing a no-fly zone and also suggested
English troops could be involved in peacekeeping in the strife
Cameron told the House of Commons last night that
Britain and its allies were considering using fighter jets to
impose a no-fly zone over Libya, patrolling and shooting down
Libyan aircraft ordered to attack protesters.
His warning came amid growing concerns about the
crumbling regime's ability to commit last desperate acts of
mass murder, as reports suggested that Gaddafi could use
chemical weapons against his own people.
Britain and America are also thought to be considering
arming rebel forces in Libya, The Telegraph reported as
reports circulated that US and Nato were massing forces close
to the embattled nation.
The Daily Mail and The Telegraph said Cameron did not
rule out "the use of military assets", saying Britain "must
not tolerate this regime using military forces against its own
The papers quoted British sources as saying that Libya
still has stocks of mustard gas chemicals.
According to the Daily Mail, Cameron threatened
Gaddafi with military action last night, promising a no-fly
zone and arms shipments to his enemies.
While Gaddafi has lost control of much of his country,
he still remains in charge of Tripoli, the capital and home to
a third of Libya's people.
Gaddafi yesterday showed no sign of wanting to quit,
giving a deranged interview to the world?s media.
"They love me, all my people love me," he said. "They
would die to protect me."
Cameron announced that the vast majority of Britons
had been evacuated from Libya and that the evacuation of
foreign nationals would be largely completed by today.
The end of the evacuation effort has coincided with a
meeting of senior Western politicians to begin the "next
phase" of action against the Gaddafi regime.
On Sunday, Britain announced emergency plans to freeze
the Gaddafi regime's assets in London.
The European Union will impose wide-ranging sanctions
against Gaddafi and the Libyan government this week.
Cameron said: "If Gaddafi uses military force against
his own people, the world cannot stand by. That is why we
should be looking at a no-fly zone."
No-fly zones have previously been imposed over Iraq
and Bosnia to prevent rogue regimes using air power against
Gen Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence
Staff, has been asked to draw up options for British military
operations in Libya.
Cameron also said Gaddafi's departure was Britain's
"highest priority", adding: "If helping the opposition would
somehow bring that about, it is certainly something we should
Any British involvement in a no-fly operation could
see Tornados and Typhoons flying from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
The Libyan air force is equipped with French-built
Mirage fighter-bombers, but British planners are more
concerned about the regime's military helicopters, which
include Soviet-made Mil Mi-24 gunships.
The Pentagon announced that the Americans had begun
"repositioning forces" around Libya to provide "flexibility".
It is believed to be considering moving a US aircraft carrier,
the USS Enterprise, from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean to
take up a position off Libya. The USS Kearsage, an amphibious
assault ship, could also be redeployed.
The French also announced that they would back a
possible military intervention with Nato partners.
The warnings were sounded after Gaddafi was accused of
ordering Libyan aircraft to attack a radio station being used
by rebels in the city of Benghazi.
Despite a promise in 2003 to give up weapons of mass
destruction, Gaddafi is thought to have retained as much as 14
tons of the chemicals required to create mustard gas.
The stocks are said to be stored in secret secure
facilities in the Libyan desert.
The disclosure came after a Gaddafi spokesman was
said to have warned that there would be hundreds of thousands
of deaths if the country descended into full-blown civil war.
Saif Gaddafi, the dictator's son and heir apparent,
was yesterday pictured brandishing an assault rifle, rallying
supporters and pledging to "send weapons" to loyalists.
Militias controlled by another of Gaddafi's sons were
also massing on the outskirts of a rebel-held city.
If the no-fly zone is agreed, experts believe that
Western governments may launch bombing raids on Gaddafi forces
if he continues to attack protesters.
Libyan opponents of Gaddafi are calling for Nato air
strikes, amid growing fears that they are too weak to
overwhelm his still-powerful military on their own or defend
liberated cities from attack.
Mustapha Gheriani, a spokesman for an organising
committee of lawyers, judges and professionals in Benghazi,
the leading city of the revolution, said: "We can't protect
ourselves at the moment from tanks and aircraft, let alone
organise a march on Tripoli to topple Gaddafi.
"If there are just a few air strikes, his loyalists
will leave him and his time will be numbered in hours.
Otherwise he could survive for a long time and there
could be terrible bloodshed."
Reports from Libya say helicopter gunships have been
deployed against opposition, killing dozens of civilians.
Sources said Gen Richards' military options paper will
also look at British ground operations.
Those were likely to be contingency plans to deal with
the extraction of RAF pilots in the event of planes crashing
or being shot down. Another option would be giving weapons and
other support to groups inside Libya.
First Published: Tuesday, March 01, 2011, 13:26