UK's Cameron says can stay in Libya as long as needed

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2011 2:18 PM
UK's Cameron says can stay in Libya as long as needed

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain can maintain its military campaign in Libya as long as needed, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday, responding to doubts among senior British military officers about how long Britain could sustain its involvement.

"I'm absolutely confident that we can keep this pressure up, we can maintain this mission for as long as is necessary," Cameron told a news conference. "Time is on our side, not on Gaddafi's side."

British military leaders have complained about the pressure of fighting on two fronts, in Afghanistan and against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces, while facing cuts in military spending to rein in a national budget deficit.

On Tuesday a newspaper quoted a briefing paper from Air Chief Marshall Simon Bryant as saying that many areas of the Royal Air Force were "running hot" and that morale among airmen was fragile.

British aircraft are playing a leading role in strikes against Gaddafi's forces and are also involved in operations in Afghanistan.

Bryant, the head of RAF combat operations, said the air force's ability to deal with unforeseen events would be eroded if the Libyan campaign lasted beyond September, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"Two concurrent operations are placing a huge demand on equipment and personnel," he said. "Should Operation Ellamy (Libya) endure past defense planning assumptions the future contingent capability is likely to be eroded."

The briefing paper was delivered to members of parliament last month, the newspaper said.

The head of Britain's said earlier this month that a lengthy military campaign in Libya could stretch its resources, echoing warnings by military chiefs in May.

NATO this month formally extended its Libyan mission a further 90 days, with analysts saying the campaign there could drag on for many months.

France's defense minister said on Tuesday he regretted the loss of civilian life in Libya due to NATO air strikes but the mission would continue until Gaddafi's forces no longer threatened civilians.

NATO admitted on Sunday that its weapons destroyed a house in Tripoli in which Libyan officials said nine civilians were killed.

Speaking to reporters at the Paris Air Show, Gerard Longuet said: "For three months there have been targeting errors, but that's because we don't have troops on the ground so sometimes you can have collateral damage."

The Libyan government said on Monday 19 civilians were killed in another NATO air strike on the home of a senior Libyan

official.

The French government will address the lower and upper houses of parliament on July 12 before a debate and vote on extending operations, a prerequisite after four months of action.

(Reporting by Tim Castle and Matt Falloon in London and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Jodie Ginsberg and Angus MacSwan)