UK's Cameron insists military backs Libya mission

June 21, 2011 - 1:00 PM
Britain Cameron Libya

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron responds to a question during a news conference at 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday June 21, 2011. Cameron delivered a rebuke to military chiefs who have questioned whether Britain can continue operations in Libya for the long term. Leading air force and naval commanders have said that the mission is placing the country's military - already hobbled by sharp austerity measures - under severe strain.

LONDON (AP) — Military chiefs from NATO nations involved in Libya held talks Tuesday to thrash out a strategy to hasten Moammar Gadhafi's exit from power, and Britain's leader said his country will see the operation through to its conclusion.

Gen. David Richards, the head of Britain's armed forces, said he and counterparts from 15 countries met in London to discuss future tactics amid growing skepticism over the military campaign from the public and lawmakers.

"The meeting examined how the operation can best be brought to a speedy and successful conclusion," Richards said in a statement.

He did not elaborate on those methods, but insisted that no one attending the meeting, which followed a similar session in Paris in April, were wavering in their backing for the mission that began in March. NATO has been bombing Libyan government weapons sites in attempt to stop the Gadhafi regime's attacks on Libyan citizens.

"It is clear from the commitment of those present — Arabs, Europeans and North Americans — that the U.N.'s wish to protect the people of Libya will be enforced," he said.

The British military chief said U.S.-led forces had significantly degraded Gadhafi's ability to attack Libyan civilians.

"Sooner or later he will lose, and all he is doing is continuing to impose suffering on the Libyan people," Richards said.

Doubts have been expressed in both London and Washington over the progress of the campaign, which began March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign on March 31.

In the United States, Congress has questioned President Barack Obama's right to sanction the military's involvement without prior authorization from lawmakers. British legislators, meanwhile, have raised concern over the potential cost of the mission, after ministers acknowledged their initial estimate that the campaign would be quick and relatively cheap proved to be mistaken.

British air force and naval commanders have said the mission is placing Britain's military — already hobbled by austerity measures — under severe strain.

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a rare rebuke Tuesday to military chiefs who have questioned whether the U.K. can continue its military operations in Libya for the long term.

"We can maintain this mission for as long as is necessary, and our allies are equally staunch," he told reporters.

British Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets have carried out almost daily raids on targets in Libya. Earlier this month, Britain also sent Apache attack helicopters to bolster the mission's firepower.

The prime minister was forced to defend the sustainability of U.K. involvement in NATO's Libya operation last week when Adm. Mark Stanhope, the country's top naval officer, suggested his forces may not be able to quickly respond to unforeseen events if Britain's role in the campaign continues beyond September.

On Tuesday, the Daily Telegraph newspaper published a note to lawmakers in which the head of air force combat operations warned that U.K. forces were overstretched because of the demands in Afghanistan and Libya. Air Chief Marshal Simon Bryant said the air force was running short on pilots and ground crew staff.

"Two concurrent operations are placing a huge demand on equipment and personnel," Bryant wrote.

Cameron insisted Tuesday that concerns about the British military's ability to continue its key role in Libya were not shared by the country's most senior generals.

"They are absolutely clear that we are able to keep up this mission for as long as is necessary, and that time is on our side — not on Gadhafi's side," Cameron said.