U.K.’s Hague Doesn’t ‘Envisage’ Libyan Ground Troop Invasion

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said there would be no ground invasion of Libya to take on Muammar Qaddafi’s forces “at the moment,” holding open the possibility of deploying troops in some capacity in the future.

“There can’t be an occupation force,” Hague told Sky News in London today. “That means you can’t have a ground invasion of Libya. It doesn’t exclude every possible type of operation.”

There is no question of ground forces being involved “at the moment,” Hague said. “None of the countries involved in this operation are envisaging a ground invasion of Libya -- let’s make that clear.”

Eurofighter Typhoons and Tornados will move to a station in southern Italy, Defense Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC’s Politics Show in London today, after British Royal Air Force Tornadoes flew a 3,000-mile, eight-hour mission to carry out a bombing raid on Libyan targets. That was the longest single mission since the Falklands War in 1982, Air Vice Chief Marshall Phil Osborn told reporters in London today.

Separately, a U.K. Royal Navy Trafalgar Class submarine and U.S. submarines fired more than 110 Tomahawk missiles at Libyan targets. The U.K. attacks targeted Qaddafi’s air force assets in the area surrounding the Libyan capital Tripoli, Osborn said.

British Warships

The U.K. also has two warships, HMS Westminster, with HMS Cumberland as backup, positioned off the coast of Libya. The government’s emergency response committee, COBRA, will meet later today, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman Vickie Sheriff said in a telephone interview. Aircraft will be redeployed to Italy because the U.K.’s sovereign military base in Cyprus is too far east of Libya for effective operations.

Western allies, under the command of the U.S., are currently concentrating on enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in line with the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1973.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne echoed Hague’s choice of words in saying that the U.K. is not considering committing ground troops to the conflict for now.

“We are not considering ground forces at the moment,” Osborne told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today, saying the UN resolution didn’t permit it. “We are undertaking operations from our navy, through the submarine-launched cruise missiles, from the RAF and the Tornado planes that flew missions last night.”

‘Too Early’

In a news conference in London today, the Chief of Defense Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer Major General John Lorimer said that “it is too early to say what the impact has been on the ground,” of last night’s operations. He also declined to set out timings for an exit strategy for allied forces. “We will see this one through for as long as it needs to be done,” he told reporters.

Asked to assess the strength of Qaddafi’s air forces, Air Vice Chief Marshall Phil Osborn, speaking at the same news conference as Lorimer, said “there is a threat and we have to be aware there may remain a threat.” He added that “in no way would we expect” Qaddafi’s “capability to match ours.”

Fox said he expects Arab participation in the military campaign to take place within “the next couple of days.”

“I hope that we will see the first of the Arab nations participating and sending assets into the area,” Fox told the BBC’s Politics Show. “I spoke this morning to some of the leaders of the Arab countries who said that they might be involved and got a very warm response, and I hope that that will come apparent. They themselves want to make the announcements.”

‘Hunker Down’

The priority of the coalition forces is to stop Qaddafi “brutalizing” his own people, not to implement “regime change,” Fox said. The Libyan leader could well “hunker down” and remain in the country, he said. “Our aim is to paralyze the regime’s capability; to control the military, which they’ve been using to terrorize their own population,” he said.

“There’s a difference between someone being a legitimate target and whether you would go ahead with targeting,” Fox said. “You would have to take into account what might happen to civilians in the area; what might happen in terms of collateral damage. We don’t simply go in with a gung-ho attitude and start firing off missiles.”

The duration of the military campaign, codenamed operation “Odyssey Dawn” by the U.S., depends upon “how quickly Qaddafi recognizes the game is up” Fox said. “It also is dependent on how quickly we can deny to him to use his military against the civilian population.”

Qaddafi’s regime “may remain in existence,” Fox said. “Whether it remains in power is a very different issue.”

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