Ten Years Ago In Libya

Early in January 2012, we hosted the three Permanent Under Secretaries of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development in Tripoli. This was a wide ranging visit to scope the future relationship between Britain and Libya and should have paved the way for close diplomatic, economic and security ties and facilitated the reconstruction of airports, harbours, schools and hospitals.

Their report, which was passed to all the members of the National Security Council, identified a number of dilemmas such as the demand for British advice, but “coolness towards any suggestion of the visible presence of Western government personnel on the ground”. The two key priorities were Security Sector Reform (reintegration of the militias) and Border Security (managing migration). They concluded: “There is an urgent need for HMG to get its planning in place.”

A week after they departed, I travelled to Bani Walid to assess the security situation in this gateway to the Sahara. There had been an uneasy peace following the death of Qadhafi and the local council imposed by the NTC had not been able to pacify the tribal elders. Soon after I arrived with a group of British special forces, the fighting began in earnest as a hundred fighters attacked the NTC’s military compound. A short time-out was called to allow US agency staff to leave the town, before the battle continued with dozens of casualties caused by the mortar bombs and machine gun fire.

This was the day, I knew that the honeymoon for the new government was over and that Libya was heading for a second civil-war, but the uprising was barely mentioned by the world’s press at the time and soon forgotten by the international community.

Bani Walid Headquarters 23 January 2012

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