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The training of Libyan soldiers across the Channel in disarray

Bassingbourn Barracks will return to its natural state: empty (credit: MOD.uk)
Bassingbourn Barracks will return to its natural state: empty (credit: MOD.uk)

(BRUSSELS2) Sexual assaults and rapes, indiscipline and gunfire... the “off shore” training of Libyan soldiers by the British authorities, which should be a model, is turning into a rout. The first batch of 325 Libyan recruits were, purely and simply, sent home. And the affair is starting to make a big splash across the Channel. The Prime Minister being on the front line. It was in fact David Cameron, in person, who made this commitment, during the G8 in The Hague in June 2013, to provide assistance in training the Libyan military.

A training program for 2000 soldiers

Originally, the British Ministry of Defense had planned to train 2.000 Libyans, including many former revolutionaries, at Bassingbourn barracks (in the Cambridge district). A barracks which closed its doors in August 2012 but reopened especially for the occasion. Started in June, the training should have ended at the end of November this year. It was interrupted prematurely. The British ministry confirmed this in a press release. “ We have agreed with the Libyan government that the best thing for all involved would be to bring forward the training completion date. The recruits will return to Libya in the coming days.”

A third of the workforce dismissed or resigned

The problems do not date from today but began at the start of the training, in June, notes our colleague from Guardian. Nearly 90 recruits – almost a third of the first contingent of soldiers – returned home, prematurely, more or less voluntarily, we learn. Some for reasons “ disciplinary and behavioral ”, others for “ personal and medical reasons”. Finally, others expressed their “ little interest " for the formation. But there is worse. Five “interns” were also charged with sexual offenses, including rape. “ Two admitted before the judge an attack on a woman in Cambridge Market Square on October 26, two others were charged with raping a man and the fifth charged with three series of sexual assaults... » details the with the BBC.

Rapes, indiscipline, shootings, escapes,

Initially, the recruits were ordered to remain on the base and all their movements prohibited, except with an escort. But the rule was later relaxed But some of them caused incidents. Some tried to escape. Gunshots were heard by neighbors, local newspaper Cambridge News reports. And local MP Andrew Lansley wrote to the Ministry of Defense on Monday to call for an end to the mission. A number of recruits, around 20, also requested asylum.

Carefully handpicked

And yet, officially, the “interns” had been handpicked, “ carefully selected » explained the British Ministry of Defense. In fact, it seems, discussions had broken out between the different militias on the choice of “trainees”, delaying the start of the selections by three months until last May. When the training began, Phil Hammond, then Defense Minister, was very proud. “During 24 next weeks, the british army will provide training world class for the libyan soldiers, which will allow better prepare them à support the transition from Libya towards a democracy stable et open » did he declared (read here on the UK Ministry of Defense website).

No funding...

This training was not a pure “gift” from the British Crown. Tripoli was to contribute to the training. However, if Libya paid the first tranche of cash to Great Britain for training, £2,5 million (all the same!), the rest of the money has not arrived, notes The Guardian.

No training, the failure of the US program also

A lack of money which also caused the American program to sink. You remember, over a year ago. Washington beat the drum, boasting of being able to train several thousand personnel in Bulgaria. But this summer, a year after the agreement in principle, not a single soldier was trained by the United States, quite simply, because the Libyan government failed to provide the promised money...

Comment: a European question too

It's a bit like the sprinkler being watered. We remember the lessons given by the British experts at the European level (they were not the only ones, it must be recognized) and their reluctance towards certain European training missions, with regard to the selection of personnel, particularly for the training mission. EUTM Somalia, or for the establishment of missions in Libya. We can clearly see all the difficulties they encounter today and the difficulty of carrying out this type of program at the bilateral level, without minimum control.

This wink aside, we must remain aware that, beyond the British failure, it is the failure of the entire international community which is currently being consumed in Tripoli. The European Union only took the Libyan problem to heart very late. And yet this has not really been the priority and it is not always. Recent events – in Ukraine, the Middle East or the Gulf – have further relegated the Libyan question to the bottom of the agenda. There was always, then, a good excuse, invoked by the former High Representative, Catherine Ashton, for not acting too quickly. The European mission in Libya (EUBAM Libya), withdrawn today to Tunis, is also in total failure.

In fact, we can wonder if, beyond the real mess that was Libya, the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, was not seeking to preserve the pretensions of a few Member States who intended to take a “piece of cake”. Faced with the dramatic situation in Libya, until recently, “ a few member states – France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom – were in total denial » notes Ana Gomes, the Portuguese MEP (socialist) specialist in Libya, who spoke this afternoon in the European Parliament. “ And Me Ashton has a responsibility » in this “non-approach”.

In the end, the military operation of 2011, and the defeat of Gaddafi, wanted mainly by Paris and London, today turns out to be a bitter victory, of very short duration, and a real political defeat in the medium term. The vast uncontrolled area that Libya is becoming could tomorrow pose more problems for Europeans than the victory of the Islamic State organization (ISIS / ISIL aka Daesh) in Iraq...

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).