Britain’s armed forces, strained by steep cuts in defence spending, would struggle to mount another military operation on the scale of the Libya intervention, MPs said on Wednesday.
The British government would face “significantly greater challenges” if it launched a second Libya-style mission, the Commons Defence Committee said.
Britain was at the forefront of international efforts to support Libya’s rebels against Moamer Kadhafi’s regime, launching UN-mandated military action with France and the United States in March before NATO took over.
The country’s final bill for the operation, codenamed Ellamy, was at £212 million ($337 million, 254 million euros) far higher than the tens of millions the government estimated at the start of the campaign.
And the operation was launched before key cuts in the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) — which slashes defence spending by eight percent over four years — had come into force, the committee said.
“We believe the government will face significantly greater challenges should an operation of similar size be necessary in the future and it will need to be prepared for some difficult decisions on prioritisation,” the committee said.
“We consider that Operation Ellamy raises important questions as to the extent of the United Kingdom’s national contingent capability.”
The Libyan conflict forced Britain’s Royal Air Force to delay the decommissioning of its ageing Nimrod R1 spy planes while the Royal Navy had to divert resources from counter-drugs operations, the MPs said.
But they added that Britain had been right to take military action against the Kadhafi regime.
After the SDSR was carried out in 2010, the British government said it would cut 17,000 jobs from the army, navy and Royal Air Force over four years.
The review has also seen Britain, which still has more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, give up its flagship aircraft carrier.