ROYAL Marines could be sent into Libya to help deal with the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.
A ‘contingency’ force of 250 commandos have been deployed to the Mediterranean aboard HMS Albion, HMS Sutherland and RFA Cardigan Bay.
The Ministry of Defence said the ships were heading to Cyprus to practise amphibious beach landings as part of the UK’s new Response Force Task Group (RFTG), also known as Operation Cougar.
But one MoD official told The News: ‘They are also a contingent capability available to the UK and to Nato for a range of things such as humanitarian disaster relief and evacuating people.’
The RFTG’s presence in the region comes as thousands of people flee the Libyan coastal city of Misrata to escape bloody street battles between anti-government rebels and forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.
European Union officials have reportedly drawn up a ‘concept of operations’ for the deployment of military forces to Libya to secure the delivery of aid supplies.
The EU forces, numbering 1,000, would not be engaged in a combat role but could fight back if threatened.
The plan is awaiting approval from the United Nations so defence chiefs are treading carefully.
An MoD spokesman said: ‘All I can say is at the moment there is no intention to use Cougar in light of Libya.’
Defence analyst Francis Tusa said: ‘It’s interesting the MoD says there is no plan “at the moment”. They are not ruling out using marines in Libya soon. In fact, I think they are actively ruling it in. I believe the odds are seriously in favour of this happening.’