Britain said on Tuesday it would send military officers to help Libyan rebels organize, a step likely to anger critics who say the West is abusing a UN resolution to use force to protect civilians.
London said it would send officers, believed to number about a dozen, to Libya to advise rebels on how to improve their organization and communications, but would not train them to fight or arm them. With the Libyan civil war risking getting bogged down in a long stalemate, Western powers are searching for ways to bolster the rebels, whose fighting efforts have been disorganized and lacked leadership.
Peter Bone, a member of parliament from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, raised concerns over the move and called for the recall of parliament, on a break, to debate it.
“We are now looking at regime change and we are clearly backing the rebels. We seem to be taking sides in a civil war. That may well be right but it’s not for the government to decide, it’s for parliament to decide,” Bone told Sky News.
Russia said Western attempts to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were a violation of a UN resolution which only authorized the use of force to protect civilians.
“The UN Security Council never aimed to topple the Libyan regime,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Belgrade. “All those who are currently using the UN resolution for that aim are violating the UN mandate.”
In a statement the British Foreign Office said it would expand its diplomatic team in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi with a military liaison advisory team made up of experienced military officers.
“They will advise the (rebel) National Transitional Council (NTC) on how to improve their military organizational structures, communications and logistics, including how best to distribute humanitarian aid and deliver medical assistance,” it said.
The Foreign Office portrayed the move as part of efforts to protect Libyan civilians and said the deployment was “fully within the terms” of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya.
That resolution rules out putting a foreign occupation force on Libyan soil.
“Our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition’s fighting forces. Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the NTC’s military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice,” the Foreign Office said.
The British government has supplied telecommunications equipment and body armour to the NTC but has taken no decision to provide arms, which the rebels are seeking in order to match the firepower of Gaddafi’s forces.
Britain has not recognized the NTC as Libya’s government but the statement said Britain regarded the council as “legitimate political interlocutors for the UK.”
Over the weekend, the UN reached agreement with Mr. Gadhafi's regime on carrying out aid operations in areas of Libya he controls. A key destination for such aid would be the besieged rebel city of Misrata, pounded in recent days by Libyan artillery.
The UN has said it has been promised access to Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, but has received no guarantees from Libyan authorities that fighting would be halted to allow aid to reach Misrata.
Asked about the possibility of foreign troop escorts of aid convoys, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said “if there is any deployment of any armed personnel on Libyan ground, there will be fighting, and the Libyan government will not take this as a humanitarian mission” but as a military one.
Asked whether he would rule out such deployment, he told reporters: “Yes, because we are doing our utmost not to resort to such things.” He said the Libyan government has repeatedly offered to help humanitarian agencies do their work.