An extended military campaign in Libya will be challenging for British naval resources and the government may need to prioritise where its assets are focused, said the UK’s navy chief.
British aircraft and navy ships are playing a leading role in striking at Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. Britain also has about 10 000 troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, the second most after the United States.
Admiral Mark Stanhope said he was “comfortable” within NATO’s new 90-day Libya mission mandate, which runs out at the end of September, Reuters reports.
“Beyond that … we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about what priorities they want,” he told reporters at a joint briefing with the head of the U.S. navy in London.
“We have a small scale commitment in Libya … if we do it for longer than 6 months then we have to reprioritise our forces across the piece — that does not mean we won’t be doing it.”
UK defence chiefs said in May extending the Libya campaign beyond six months would be a challenge for its armed forces.
“If there was a continuation of the need for maritime interdiction operations off Libya, then the government will have a choice as to where they chose to take the platform from — it could be from around home waters,” Stanhope said.
“I am not going to prejudge what that decision would be,” said Stanhope, who is the UK’s First Sea Lord.
British defence chiefs had said last month an aircraft carrier and surveillance planes scrapped as part of defence cuts last year would have helped in the Libya campaign. Their views are embarrassing for the year-old coalition government which ordered British forces to help in Libya only months after ordering an eight-percent real-terms cut in defence spending over four years to rein in a budget deficit.
“If we had Ark Royal and the Harriers in the February timeframe, I feel relatively reassured that we would have deployed that capability off Libya to conduct the ground support piece,” Stanhope said on Monday, referring to scrapped assets.
“There is far too much of what could have been as opposed to what is,” he said. “We have got to look forward.”
The United States accused some NATO allies on Friday of failing to pull their weight in the Libyan operation.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the alliance, prosecuting an air campaign against Libyan forces, risked “collective military irrelevance” unless European partners deepened their commitment and spending.
“We in the military I believe are fairly self-critical, so there will be a very good examination of the operations in Libya and we do the same thing regardless of where we are operating,” U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told reporters at the briefing.