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Britain Cannot Rule out Sending Troops to Libya | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Philip Hammond and Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s UN-backed unity government. /AFP/Getty Images

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday that British soldiers could be sent to fight ISIS terrorists in Libya, asserting that this option could not be ruled out, especially if requested by the Libyan government, but that any deployment would need to be approved by parliament.

ISIS militants, who have seized a stretch of Libya’s Mediterranean coast, are seeking to turn Libya into a “bolthole” from which to launch attacks on mainland Europe, or ships at sea, Hammond said.

Western powers are drawing up plans to tackle the jihadists in North Africa, and also backing a new Libyan unity government, hoping it will seek foreign support to confront ISIS militants, deal with migrant flows from Libya to Europe and restore oil production to shore up Libya’s economy.

“It wouldn’t make sense to rule anything out because you never know how things are going to evolve,” Hammond told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

“But if there were ever any question of a British combat role in any form – ground, sea or air – that would go to the House of Commons,” he said referring to Britain’s elected parliament.

Last week Hammond told parliament there were no plans to send combat troops to Libya, responding to media reports that British special forces were already operating in the country.

Libya has been in chaos since Western-backed rebels overthrew President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Hammond said he did not think it was likely that Libya would invite foreign military intervention; however, he insisted that western allies were waiting for an invitation from the fledgling government. The Foreign Minister highlighted the risk that an ISIS stronghold in the country could pose to mainland Europe.

He said Britain would be potentially ready to respond to a request from Libya for air strikes or naval support for a Libyan-led ground offensive against ISIS in Sirte.

“If Daesh (ISIS) became established in Libya and sought to use that established base to infiltrate terrorists into Europe, that would be a threat to all of us,” he said.