Skip to Content

Coffee House

Chaos thy name is Libya

24 February 2011

9:14 AM

24 February 2011

9:14 AM

Colonel Gaddafi’s strength appears to be diminishing: Foreign Office sources
suggest that the latest YouTube footage suggests that the rebels are now 30 miles from Tripoli, there are reports of Libyan servicemen spiking their guns rather than fire on their
compatriots and members of the Gaddafi family have failed to present a united front to the dissent that intends to depose them.

But, chaos thy name is Libya. Communications have long been silent, except for the savage drone of state radio, conduit for Gaddafi’s prophesies of victory or martyrdom. Evacuees from
Tripoli’s now hellish airport relate a city bristling with arms and testosterone – the fear is that Gaddafi and his dogs of war are sufficiently mad to fight to the last bullet. Tanks
are parked in the suburbs, waiting. 

Elsewhere, order has collapsed and the economy has shut down. Shops are closed and drilling has stopped at the oil wells. The lights have gone out and reserves of food and clean water are
dwindling. It’s a brigand’s paradise. The Today programme reported that workers at oil camps, many of them expats, are arming themselves ‘to repel armed bands of looters’.

The security situation means that evacuating oil workers in the desert by air is becoming less likely: a chartered aircraft is not going to land into a swarm of small arms fire. There are rumours,
now backed by the sensitively sourced Frank Gardner, that SAS detachments are on stand-by to deploy to the eastern deserts in order to secure expatriate workers. COBRA will meet in an hour or so,
presumably to discuss this option among other more mundane plans.

Convening COBRA is routine in such circumstances, but it highlights the Foreign Office’s failure to master the situation. Yesterday afternoon, Westminster rang to rumours of a livid
Prime Minister breaking his schedule to call ministers, urging them to get a grip. William Hague has cancelled a trip to the States today in order to direct his department. He wants to know if
yesterday’s debacle at Gatwick, which every paper has castigated, was a series of unfortunate incidents or a symptom of ingrained incompetence. His performance on Today scarcely inspired
confidence. Hague partially excused the FO on the grounds that Tuesday’s earthquake in New Zealand has placed extra strain on the system. Implicit in that is the concession that the
FO’s situation room is overstretched. Hague then promised that more hands will be at the pumps and that extra communication facilities (such as Skype) are being put in place. Further
chartered flights are planned for later this day and a Hercules transport has been deployed to Malta together with another Royal Navy vessel. 

Many of the British citizens who were stuck at Tripoli airport are now safe, courtesy of the Foreign Office finding space for them on Polish, French etc flights. BP’s chartered flight has now
landed at Gatwick and the FO’s original plane is now airborne. However, many are still trapped either in Tripoli or the remote desert. The Foreign Office says it’s concerned for 170
individuals, which is likely to be an underestimate. It is imperative that all are rescued as soon as possible. 

Show comments