House of Commons Oral Evidence Taken Before the Defence Committee: Operations In Libya; on Wednesday 27 April 2011
-- Rt. Hon Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for Defence,
-- Major General D A Capewell OBE, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) and -- Mr Peter Watkins, Director of Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, gave evidence.
Secretary of State, welcome to the Defence Committee’s inquiry into operations in Libya. Since you were in the United States yesterday, we are grateful to you for coming in so soon after what was presumably a long and gruelling flight.
Before we begin, I will make a general announcement about jackets. I never make an announcement about whether people have to wear jackets, but they don’t have to, so anybody who wants to remove their jacket, please do.
Secretary of State, please will you introduce your team. It is hardly necessary, but nevertheless please do so.
Thank you, Chairman. It gives me great pleasure, of course, to introduce my fellow witnesses. They are the Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff for Operations, Major General David Capewell, who the Committee knows well, and the Director of Operational Policy, Peter Watkins, who the Committee might know even better.
If I may, I would like to say a few words before we begin questioning, Chairman.
With what in mind exactly?
If I may, I just want to set out one or two brief points about how we see this session and the shape that we are currently in.
This session being this evidence session?
This evidence session.
To set the scene, Chairman, Britain is taking an active role in international efforts to protect civilians in Libya. We do so under the full and unambiguous authority of the United Nations and as part of a broad coalition which includes Arab nations among its number. As the Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons yesterday, 16 nations are contributing aircraft or maritime assets to the region under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. In total, 34 nations are either providing or offering various kinds of support, including military, allowing over-flights, logistical or financial support and humanitarian relief. We have worked closely across Government through the National Security Council and internationally to ensure that military activity is but one of a range of measures that continue to be taken to maintain the pressure on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.
We continue to engage closely with our coalition partners. For example, yesterday, as you said, Chairman, I visited Washington to discuss the issues with US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates. In the last few weeks I have visited Qatar, the UAE-twice-Italy, Cyprus and France, and the US yesterday. I am sure that the Committee wants to join us in paying tribute to the skill, bravery and professionalism of the men and women of the UK and our allies’ Armed Forces, who are making such a significant contribution to the operation in Libya. This is an active and fluid operation and it is an evolving campaign.
Can I stop you, please? Do bear in mind that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons yesterday. I think we are aware of the background to all of this. I am sure that the things that you have there to say will be adequately brought out in the questions that we will wish to ask, but-
May I just add one point, Chairman? This is an active and fluid operation in an evolving campaign. The messages that come out of this session this afternoon will resonate with our Forces and with the Gaddafi regime. I hope the Committee will understand that there are areas of information which we could probably give more completely, but to make public too much information operationally at this time could prejudice our efforts in Libya.
Yes. Thank you very much for making that point, because I think it is extremely important, and I am sure the Committee will bear it in mind in the questions that we ask and the tone that we adopt in what we ask.
I should like to begin by asking about the issue of taking sides. It seems to me that we are taking sides. Do you agree that that is the impression that is being given, or would you suggest that we are not taking sides? (end of excerpt)
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