Somerset Marines placed on standby for Libya operation
Heroic West Royal Marines have been put on standby to spearhead an increased military intervention in Libya.
Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday insisted there is currently no prospect of a land invasion during the current action.
But if the situation changes – something certain to require a new United Nations resolution – 40 Commando would lead the way.
It is just four months since the Marines, based near Taunton, returned from a gruelling tour of duty in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in Sangin, Helmand, cost 14 lives.
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However while a 600-man force is on five days' notice to move, the Ministry of Defence yesterday stressed it is not specifically because of the situation in Libya.
A spokesman explained the readiness state of 40 Commando is part of a cycle, with the Navy maintaining a capability including ships and submarines, and the Marines are part of that.
"It is the same for all units, whether ground troops, air squadrons or ships at sea, there are always some on a short notice and it is just their turn," he said.
The spokesman pointed out UN Security Council resolution 1973 on military action does not authorise an occupation.
Mr Cameron told MPs yesterday the resolution specifically rules out an invasion or occupying force, and the point of the military action was to save the lives of civilians. He pledged all military attacks will be "fully consistent" with the UN mandate, which allows "all necessary measures".
But he refused to clarify whether Colonel Gaddafi was a target, following an apparent disagreement between Ministers and commanders.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox, the North Somerset MP, had said Gaddafi becoming a target could "potentially be a possibility".
But Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, insisted seeking to hit the dictator was not a possibility.
And Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said: "I support the Government's decision on Libya but I think Liam Fox's comments are irresponsible in many ways. His view that the aim of our military effort is to bring about regime change is outside a very broad UN resolution. It is wrong and counterproductive at a time when we are trying to maintain a broad coalition."