THE COST of bombing Libya was at least 13 times what was spent on rebuilding the country after the end of the conflict, it has been revealed.
Official figures show that the eight-month military intervention unleashed by David Cameron in support of rebels fighting Colonel Gadaffi’s regime cost £320 million. But efforts to stabilise the country following Gaddafi’s death and the collapse of his government have amounted to just £25m, which has failed to prevent Libya from sliding into chaos as feuding militias battle for control.
The UK bombing campaign against Libya began in March 2011 as part of a multi-national NATO action brought in to enforce a no fly zone established by a United Nations resolution.
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The military intervention lasted until October that year and saw RAF jets and Apache helicopters attack military targets including armoured vehicles, ammunitions dumps, weapons and military installations.
A flotilla of Royal Navy ships was also sent to the Mediterranean, while it has been rumoured that special forces such as the SAS and SBS were deployed on the ground to co-ordinate airstrikes, although officially no British soldiers were placed on Libyan soil.
Costs were initially estimated to be in the ‘tens of millions’ by Chancellor George Osborne, but the bill was later estimated by the Ministry of Defence to be £212 million.
However, documents released from Westminster show the final figure was £320m, including around £50m spent on replacing the bombs, missiles and bullets used during the campaign.
The same files also show that after the conflict came to a close £25 million was given by the UK government in stabilisation assistance to the Libyan authorities through the Arab partnership and conflict pool programme between 2011-13. Around £15m was also spent separately on humanitarian aid.
In the meantime Libya has fragmented into lawlessness, with the control of the country split between four disparate fighting groups, including the democratically elected Council of Deputies, the rival Islamist government of the new General National Congress in Tripoli, Islamist revolutionaries in Benghazi and fighters from Daesh.
Libya is also awash with weapons after the conflict, and many areas are plagued by militias who did not disarm after the fall of Gaddafi.
The revelation of the cost of the Libya conflict and the relative scarcity of funds to rebuild the country follows serious concerns raised by the SNP over the UK’s current involvement in Syria, where RAF pilots have been working with foreign forces to attack Daesh despite a vote against launching military action against targets in the Middle Eastern country in the House of Commons two years ago.
North East Fife MP Stephen Gethins said that lessons should be learned from the failure to create a stable future for Libya following the bombing campaign.
He said: “These figures are eye-watering. The amount of money the UK government will spend bombing a country dwarves the re-building programme thirteen to one.
“The lessons of Libya, like Iraq, is that you cannot just bomb somewhere and move on. The figures are especially alarming given the UK government’s current involvement in Syria.
“The case for bombing in Syria has simply not been made – and the involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons.
“We urgently need honesty and transparency about the UK intentions in Syria- and a strong commitment to the country following the conflict.”
Gethins is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee at Westminster, which has launched an inquiry into the Government’s foreign policy on Libya.
The committee wants to look at the facts behind the government’s decision to help to secure the UN authorising the Libya intervention, and the extent and effectiveness of post-conflict planning by the UK and its allies.
Anti-war campaigners have also criticised the gulf between the amount spent on bombing Libya and the comparatively small sum spent on reconstruction.
Chris Newham, of the Stop the War coalition, said: “There is a good deal of evidence that the cost of the military intervention has been massively under-estimated.”
He added: “These figures once again show that all the talk of humanitarian interventionism and that these foreign wars have furthered the cause of development and democracy are spurious.
“The vast discrepancy between what was spent on bombing Libya and what was spent on building it up again show that the military operation was the main thing the politicians were interested in.
“Now we have a country which was completely broken by the British and French-led intervention, and it is a scandal that the UK has done so little to help clear up the mess they have made.”
An FCO spokeswoman said: “The UK has funded support to Libya since 2011, aiming to promote political participation, strengthen security, justice and defence, and expand the economy. This year we intend to provide £10m through the new Conflict Stability and Security Fund.
“We are focussed on providing support for political settlement efforts as the best long-term solution to the current conflict, and preventing further conflict and decline. Supporting progress towards a UN mediated ceasefire and a stable political settlement in Libya is our immediate priority.
“We call on all Libyans to work quickly towards the creation of a Government of National Accord with which the international community can work and support.”