NATO’s successful campaign in Libya will come to a formal close on Monday night after the UN Security Council voted unanimously to end military involvement by lifting its protective no-fly zone over the country.
Seven-and-a-half months after the council first authorised intervention as Muammar Gaddafi’s military advanced on rebels and their pro-democracy supporters, the UN yesterday agreed the no-fly-zone will be lifted at midnight on Monday, October 31.
The move came despite Libya’s deputy ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi asking members to wait until the transitional government made an official request.
The UN’s most powerful body decided there was no need for any further military action following the death of Gaddafi on October 20, and the transitional government’s announcement of the country’s liberation on October 23.
Libya will therefore regain control of its airspace and all military operations on November 1, with the country a different place to the one which the UN first agreed to protect back on March 17.
The Nato bombing campaign was critical in helping the rebels oust the Libyan leader from power in August following a five-month deadlock between the two sides.
The Ministry of Defence estimates the campaign has cost Britain around £160m, with a further £140m required to re-stock depleted munitions.
At the peak of the campaign the UK deployed some 2,300 servicemen and women, along with 16 RAF Tornados, six Typhoons and five Apache helicopters.
British forces in Libya are now battling to prevent thousands of deadly surface-to-air missiles ending up in “the wrong hands”, a military chief said yesterday.
Gaddafi is known to have invested in a large supply of man-portable air defence systems, known as manpads, and it is now feared they could flood the black market following the collapse of his regime.
Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Britain’s commander of joint operations, warned there was “always a risk of proliferation of such weapons” and admitted it was not known exactly how many were out there.
Addressing the question of what arms could be used or sold on by the wrong people, he said: “We’re still trying to work that out and get to the bottom of what might be there. We knew at the start the Gaddafi regime had invested heavily in manpads.
“The proliferation of portable weapons that are lethal is almost strategic in itself.
“We have to be careful about in whose hands these end up.”
Britain would do whatever it could to “get these wicked things out the way”, he added.
The possibility of Taliban or al-Qaida members getting hold of the missiles was not ruled out.
“As far as which group or who might get them – the whole proliferation of arms is a pretty murky business,” Air Marshal Peach said.
Manpads are much sought after by insurgent groups because of their effectiveness against attack helicopters and other aircraft used against them. Gaddafi and his supporters also had a history of putting advanced weapons in the hands of terrorists such as the IRA. The missiles are also easy to carry around and use.
Speaking at a Ministry of Defence briefing on the Libya operation, Air Marshal Peach indicated that Britain’s role in the north African country following the rebels’ victory was yet to be determined.
The question of whether British military advisers will remain there was a “policy question to be debated by the National Security Council”, he said.
He went on: “It’s very much now governed by the Libyan government and their request to us, which is not yet clear.”