Navy could send more ships to Libya

HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth for the last time
Picture: Shaun Roster

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THE Royal Navy is making contingency plans to send more ships to Libya.

Admiral Sir Trevor Soar said that one option available to the government would be to deploy the Response Force Task Group (RFTG), which is a new unit that comprises up to six different support and warships.

The RFTG was being put together before the Libyan crisis began for possible use across the Arab region and in the Gulf, Adml Soar said.

Although there are no imminent plans to reinforce HMS Cumberland and HMS Westminster off Libya, Adml Soar said an escalation into the Mediterranean would be possible should the Ministry of Defence give the signal.

‘It would be up to [the MoD] to make up its mind if it needs anything and what it would require,’ Adml Soar told a national newspaper.

‘One of the key elements of the RFTG are ships like HMS Ocean - helicopter carriers provide this government with enormous flexibility.

‘The RFTG is already part of a planned deployment. The great thing is there are a lot of friendly nations there. Clearly we need to see how things develop.’

The Admiral spoke out about his fears for the future, particularly over security in the Gulf, and the escalating threat of Somali pirates.

He also expressed frustration that the Royal Navy’s work is sometimes overlooked, saying he worried the public had developed ‘sea blindness’ over the role his fleet plays across the globe.

‘I firmly believe that we are relevant, we have a part to play,’ Adml Soar told the Guardian.

On Libya, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said that the RFTG ‘needs to train and work together to stay ready for all eventualities.’

The RFTG is currently scheduled to leave the UK at the end of April.

The spokesman added: ‘If some or all of these platforms were required for operations off Libya, then they could quickly be prepared for that.’

European Union leaders will meet to discuss the Libyan crisis in Brussels today as pro-Gaddafi forces regain control of territory previously held by the opposition following a major military offensive.

The UK has accused Colonel Gaddafi’s regime of ‘waging war against their own people’, using aircraft and helicopters to mount attacks.

Britain and France are drafting a resolution to the United Nations calling for no-fly zone in Libya, which they say is an absolute prerequisite for military intervention.

After meeting on Thursday, NATO defence ministers said further planning was needed on how to initiate and enforce any potential air exclusion zone in Libya and that this could only happen with a ‘clear mandate’ from the UN, which will need US, Chinese and Russian support.