Problems loom for Cameron as Fox issues warning over Libyan rebels

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by G.A.Ponsonby 

UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox has warned that the Libyan rebel force currently trying to topple Col Gadaffi almost certainly contains militants who will need to be marginalised after the conflict.

Mr Fox was speaking to the BBC this weekend when he admitted that the rebel coalition, the National Transitional Council (NTC), may contain radical Islamist elements that will need to be dealt with post Gadaffi.

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 programme the defence Secretary described rebel forces as a “mixture” of people and to pretend that there were no “radical elements” was unrealistic.

Mr Fox said: “Of course there are going to be militants in Libya – there are militants across the whole of the Middle East – it would be a great surprise if there weren’t some in Libya itself.”

He conceded that the current military effort could not by itself bring down Gadaffi and insisted that regime change could only be achieved if the Colonel’s inner circle were persuaded that the regime had no future.

Mr Fox’s hopes that Gadaffi’s loyal group would hand over power faced a setback last week after it emerged that former Gadaffi loyalist, General Abdel Fattah Younes, had been executed by NTC soldiers angry at his command decisions.  The General had served under Gadaffi for four decades and had only recently defected to the rebels.

The killing of the commander and some of his key aides could not have been worse coming in the same week that the UK had joined the US and France in freeing up Libyan assets for rebel use.  The deaths also suggest there may be long term repercussions in a country dominated by tribal loyalties. 

News of the commander’s death was followed by reports of civilian deaths after the weekend bombing of the Libyan state broadcaster in Tripoli.  NATO forces have been bombing the Libyan capital for months and there are fears that residents are beginning to turn against the allies.

The situation in Libya is now resulting in calls for a renewed UN mandate to allow for a more offensive campaign, the current resolution allows only for military action in order to protect civilians.

David Cameron is now coming under pressure to ensure that the UK can extricate itself from a situation that is rapidly getting out of control.  President Obama’s attention has turned to the US’s debt crisis and both he and France’s Sarkozy are facing elections next year so a prolonged mess is not an option.

The problem is that Cameron’s Tory/Lib Dem coalition is sending out mixed messages.  One day suggesting compromise and the next day unceremoniously booting out Gadaffi’s diplomats – leaving no one to negotiate with should it become necessary.

The execution of Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi conflict will have done nothing to persuade Gadaffi that capitulation is his best move.

The end game in this conflict may well come down to oil.  Libya is among the World’s largest oil economies with approximately 3.5% of global oil reserves, more than twice those of the US.  Libyan oil fields are split east and west.  The oil fields to the east sit south of Ajdabiyah are tighter knit and defending them may be easier.

A military operation whose stated aim was the defence of the citizens of Benghazi may well result in the partition Libya and the re-emergence of an unpredictable and dangerous middle eastern dictator with a very bad attitude.