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Helicopter deployment breaks UK consensus on Libya intervention

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, May 27, IRNA -- Britain's decision to send four Apache attack helicopters to Libya has broken the consensus between the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition with the opposition Labour Party on the escalating military intervention.

The government also faced criticism about the way the decision was announced by David Cameron’s spokesman on Thursday while the prime minister was out of the country attending the G8 summit in France, and not to parliament, which will be unable to debate the move until MPs return from their recess on June 7.

Labour's defence secretary Jim Murphy responded to the announcement, first leaked by France on Monday, by repeating his warning that it “marked a serious intensification of Britain's military commitment in Libya.”

'It's a totally different order from those in a fixed wing aeroplanes thousands of feet up in the air. These are close combat, fast attack helicopters, vulnerable to ground attack,' Murphy said.

He also raised the prospect of another conflict with the government over a exit strategy, asking: “What's the end game in Libya? What's the politics that goes alongside the military effort?'

Cameron's spokesman confirmed the deployment after the prime minister reportedly asked for more information about the possible risks, while en route to Paris earlier Thursday.

The British press was also briefed that Cameron was told by UK intelligence that Muammar Gaddafi is increasingly paranoid, on the run, and hiding in hospitals by night, which prompted him to authorise the helicopters, which have the implicit threat of making it easier to assassinate the Libyan leader.

In an emergency debate on Tuesday, before MPs started a two-week recess, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey was forced to deny that a decision had been made to deploy the helicopters and insist it would not break UN resolution 1973 designed to protect Libyan civilians.

At the time, Murphy warned that although Labour had made clear its support for the government and the UN mandate, “it is crucial for parliament to have an opportunity to scrutinise Government decisions and the campaign in Libya.”

“Parliament has not written the government a blank cheque on Libya, and ministers should never keep the British public in the dark about major deployments. This is a serious moment, and it would be a serious escalation if such a commitment were to be made” about the helicopters, he said.

Labour MP David Winnick also accused the government that there is an increasing feeling that, despite denials, resolution 1973 is being used for regime change and that it would be “totally outside international law.”

Former foreign office minister Chris Bryant chided the government saying that Nato's mission in Libya was “basically at stalemate” and questioned if the aim was not regime change, how long the stalemate would go on.

Further criticism also came from Conservative backbench MP John Baron, who has been sceptical about the military intervention and warned the deployment of attack helicopters would be a significant escalation and “reinforces the point that regime change has been the objective of our intervention.”

“Given the air strikes and this latest news, at what point does the Minister believe that our actions on the ground will cross the line as regards UN resolution 1973?” Baron asked.

In response, Harvey said that what was specifically prohibited was a landing and occupying force and that he did not see bow “one can in any way compare the use of attack helicopters to take on moving targets with a landing and occupying force.”

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