Britain fears Libya mission stalemate could drag on for years
Published 21/04/2011 | 05:00
BRITISH Defence Secretary Liam Fox last night heightened fears of a prolonged presence in Libya by comparing the conflict to that in Afghanistan, where allied forces have been fighting for almost a decade.
Dr Fox's remarks came as France and Italy followed Britain's lead and deployed teams of military advisers to Libya to support rebels who have struggled against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
Officials have said the UK mission in Libya could last several months as the country settles into a military stalemate.
The US also announced it was giving the rebels $25m (€17.2m) of "non-lethal" military equipment, including radios and medical supplies, but has no plans to deploy US "boots on the ground".
Britain has sent 10 senior military officers to Benghazi to help turn the poorly organised rebels into a credible fighting force, while France and Italy are also sending 10 staff each.
The military mission has sparked warnings that Britain is being sucked deeper into an open-ended conflict, with no clear exit strategy.
Speaking in Rome, Dr Fox said the best way for Britain to reduce its involvement in Libya was to bolster the rebels.
According to Dr Fox, the situation in Libya is "not that different from what's happening in Afghanistan, where we've decided that training up security forces, so the Afghans themselves can look after their security, is the best way forward".
Meanwhile, Gaddafi's regime has spent $3.5m (€2.4m) hiring hundreds of mercenaries from north Africa to help defeat anti-government rebels, according to senior Nato officials.
Details of a deal to recruit 450 fighters from the disputed Western Sahara region have been passed to officials by a former Gaddafi loyalist who was involved in the negotiations before defecting.
According to the defector, the mercenaries are being paid $10,000 (€6,900) each to fight for two months. Gaddafi's officials have also recruited scores of fighters from rebel movements in Niger and Mali.
The documents produced by recent defectors show he is actively looking to recruit more.
Opposition groups have accused the mercenaries of some of the regime's worst excesses, including the murder of women and children. (© Daily Telegraph, London)