2010-2019 | Libya | RAF crimes

The RAF starts its bombing campaign in Libya

RAF Tornado GR4s heading for Libya in March 2011-
© Crown Copyright – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Flickr.

19 March 2011

On 19 March 2011, the Royal Air Force commenced air strikes in Libya. United Nations resolution 1973 had authorized member states to enforce a no-fly zone and to use all necessary means to protect civilians. However, the British government was soon involved in the pursuit of regime change to topple Gadaffi, who it had previously courted as an ally. This new goal was the pretext for training extremist Islamist insurgents in street fighting and sabotage and for downplaying the importance of safeguarding non-combatants.  When Defence Secretary Liam Fox reminded Prime Minister David Cameron of the need to avoid any collateral damage,  Cameron’s response was that such a strict concern for the letter of the mandate was ‘fucking ridiculous.’ 1

Cameron, like Tony Blair before him in 2003, determined on military intervention, despite the opposition of top intelligence officials.  John Sawers, head of MI6, was adamantly opposed to any military involvement, whether overt or covert, maintaining that any such intervention would harm British security.2  His objections were subsequently proved correct in 2017, when a terror bombing in Manchester, which killed 23 people including the attacker, was linked back to a 2011 decision to allow known Jihadi extremists to fly to Libya to join the insurgency. As for Libya, the result of the British bombing was increased civilian casualties, political chaos and a flood of arms into the surrounding nations of western Africa, fueling further violence, extremism and instability.

At the same time as helping the insurgents, the British government was also deeply concerned that, if Gadaffi was brought in front of the International Criminal Court, any revelations about his earlier cooperation with London, especially regarding torture renditions, would prove deeply embarrassing.  So MI6 and Whitehall mandarins plotted to have him spirited out to a beach paradise in Equatorial Guinea, where the former dictator would have been untouchable because the country did not recognise the ICC.3


  1. Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac, The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers, William Collins, London, 2017, p. 464.
  2. Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac, Op. cit., p. 462.
  3. Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac, Op. cit., p 466.

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