Former Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2011 decision to intervene militarily in Libya was misguided and helped give rise to Islamic extremism in North Africa, a key British parliamentary committee said Wednesday.
The harsh report slams Cameron and his National Security Council for expanding a civilian protection mission in Libya to include regime change and failing to adequately plan for the country’s future after the overthrow of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
It said Britain’s military action was based on “erroneous assumptions” and an “incomplete understanding” of the ramifications of removing Gadhafi and that Cameron’s team should have been aware that the rebel groups Britain was backing contained “significant” numbers of Islamic extremists.
“The UK’s actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today,” said committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a Conservative Party legislator. He said evidence gathered by the committee suggested the threat to civilians used to justify intervention had been overstated.
France and Britain led an international coalition in a series of airstrikes against Gadhafi in March 2011 as the dictator’s forces were threatening what would have been a bloody onslaught against heavily populated Benghazi, then controlled by rebel forces.
The oil-rich North African country descended into chaos after the intervention and parts of it have become a bastion for Islamic State extremists, giving the militants a new base even as its territory in Syria and Iraq shrinks under constant assault.
The parliamentary report says the failure to plan for the aftermath led to political collapse, internal warfare, a humanitarian crisis and the rise of the Islamic State group — a criticism similar to the findings of an earlier official inquiry, known as the Chilcot Report, into Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement that the intervention had international support from the Arab League and had been authorized by the United Nations Security Council. It said the threat from Gadhafi was credible and required a “decisive” international response.
“Throughout the campaign we stayed within the United Nations mandate to protect civilians,” the Foreign Office statement said.
The parliamentary committee’s criticism echoes comments made earlier this year by U.S. President Barack Obama, who told Atlantic magazine that Libya had turned into “a mess” in part because of French and British shortcomings after the intervention.
He said Cameron had become “distracted” by other matters.
Cameron did not immediately comment on the report. He told Parliament in January that intervention had been needed to keep Gadhafi from attacking his own people.
Cameron stepped down as prime minister in July and resigned from Parliament this week. His political career was cut short by Britain’s June vote to leave the European Union.