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UK Program to Train Libyan Soldiers Ends in ‘Disarray and Scandal’

A program by the Ministry of Defence to train Libyan soldiers has ended ahead of schedule, due to a string of criminal offences committed by several of the men. Initially planning to train two thousand troops at the Bassingbourn base in Cambridgeshire, the first group of three hundred are now being sent home – weeks in advance – and it is unlikely that the program will continue elsewhere.

Many of the original three hundred recruits were what the Guardian labels ‘former revolutionaries’, meaning rebels that fought alongside NATO in the 2011 war that destroyed Libya’s Jamahiriya  government. A Ministry of Defence spokesman claims that each of the men went through a special vetting process prior to their selection; however this does not seem to have been too successful.

Apparently ninety of the men withdrew from the program throughout the course of their stay, returning home due to personal reasons and health problems, while others are said to have had behavioural and disciplinary issues. Several more have claimed asylum. Five soldiers have been charged with various sexual offences, including the rape of a man in Cambridge by two officers.

It has been reported that many of the recruits had taken little interest in the training and were not doing what they were being asked to do. The men had been instructed not to leave their barracks, but many were seen by residents in the area scaling the fences to buy food and vodka from nearby shops. Other locals left their houses to find Libyan men hiding under their cars, causing a great sense of alarm and fear for those in the area.

Other countries that planned to train soldiers have also suffered setbacks. An American-run training camp in Libya had to be abandoned following an attack by militants, and troops trained in Italy and Turkey were not returning to the army when back in Libya but joining militant groups instead.

This episode marks another stunning success for David Cameron’s foreign policy legacy. The resource-rich African nation love the recently acquired democracy that NATO’s depleted uranium bombs brought them so much, that it now has not one, but two governments. The internationally recognised parliament was run out of Tripoli by Islamist militia Libya Dawn in August, and is now holding court in a hotel in the eastern city of Torbruk, after initially taking refuge offshore on a Greek car ferry. Meanwhile, the second, self-declared government that now resides in the capital are calling for new elections to be held; following other recent elections in 2012 and 2014.

The Ministry of Defence have pointed to the ongoing turbulence in Libya, seemingly trying to find some justification for this disastrous episode. However as yet, no one from the government has publicly acknowledged the role that our country played in the war that led to the destabilisation of a once prospering nation. Writing in CounterPunch a few days ago, Patrick Cockburn commented on Cameron’s silence regarding events in Libya since NATO’s intervention, stating that “The West intervened in somebody else’s civil war and tried to dictate who won.”

It seems rather ironic that at a time when our government is debating the possibility of stripping British citizens whom have gone to join ISIS in Syria of their passports, that we have now suffered some form of blowback from our last imperial adventure, and on our own invitation at that. Those who have been following events in Libya may also find a twisted irony in the fact that these men committed the very crimes that Gaddafi and his soldiers were falsely accused of by the interventionists in 2011. Perhaps – as Washington, and thus by default London – prepare to train and arm the next round of proxy rebels, this incident will give them pause for thought. If our leaders are incapable of successfully selecting former ‘revolutionaries’ to be brought over here, then there is little hope to think that they are adept enough to vet individuals whom they expect to fight for our interests over there. Unlikely, but perhaps.

Sophie Stephenson is an American History postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, with a particular interest in US foreign policy and relations with the Middle East. She can be reached at: sophie_stephenson@outlook.com.

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