Cameron was warned that Overthrowing Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi would destabilize Africa

An existential threat? Why did Cameron not warn us  before?

Or did he only just come up with the idea in order to  cover his tracks over Libya?

 LAST UPDATED AT  12:45 ON Fri 25 Jan 2013

DAVID CAMERON in his self-serving foreign and military policy increasingly  resembles Colonel Cathcart – Yossarian’s commanding officer on the fictitious  Italian island of Pianosa in Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22.

Cathcart is most famous for repeatedly raising the number of missions the men  have to fly to complete a tour of duty. This becomes the bane of Yossarian’s  life, as every time he comes close to obtaining the target number of missions  for being sent home, Col Cathcart raises the tariff again. The British Army, I  suspect, is beginning to understand the feeling.

Just as they are finally disengaging from Afghanistan, Cameron has found a  new existential enemy in the Sahara desert: in the unlikely form of a group of  ‘Mad Max Militias’ – some Islamist, some merely opportunist tribal bandits.

One group, controlled by a long-time troublemaker from Mali, Mokhtar  Belmokhtar, was responsible for the attack on the Amenas gas complex in eastern Algeria. Other groups have  been responsible for the destabilisation of Mali prompting the French military intervention on 15 January.

Col Cathcart has a further characteristic that drives forward Catch 22’s plot  and provides some of its blackest comedy – his devious mastery of disguising his  cock-ups with misleading language. Cameron’s recent high-octane activity on  Algeria beautifully demonstrates that the spirit of Cathcart is alive and well  in Downing Street.

Few serious commentators view any of the groups as an “existential threat” as  Cameron described them.

It is true they have grown stronger of late – mainly as a result of the fall  of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, who offered gainful employment to many of the wilder  tribesmen in his own security forces, and was an implacable enemy to any group  with jihadist sympathies. In any case, parts of the Sahara have always been  lawless and violent “ungoverned space” – read Beau Geste: nothing the  French Foreign Legion can’t keep the lid on as they used to for more than a  century.

But by rebranding rag-tag Islamist and Tuareg gangs Cameron is able  conveniently to cover his tracks over Libya where he was warned time and again  that overthrowing Gaddafi would have some unpleasant consequences. He is able to  sex up a consequence of his own poor judgment into a great and implacable force  of history.

Indeed, there are reports that a split emerged yesterday in the alliance of  Islamist militant groups that seized control of northern Mali last year. A  negotiator from the Ansar Dine group (defenders of the faith) has said he is now  part of a faction that wants talks with the government and has distanced the  group from al-Qaeda’s North African umbrella organisation, AQIM. This is more  reminiscent of the squabbling terrorist groups in Monty Python’s The Life of  Brian than an “existential threat”.

Even if Cameron is sincere in his belief about the threat, it seems odd that  he hasn’t warned the country before; and even odder that he is going ahead with  major cuts to the armed forces, particularly the Army (likely to be the most  important force in a desert) which announced a further 5,300 redundancies on  Tuesday. How can the blueprint for the future armed forces dreamt up nearly  three years ago still be the right one in the face of this new existential  threat?

The prime minister is, of course, absolutely right to offer logistic support  to our French allies if for no other reason that they actually have an aircraft  carrier and we don’t. That some of the UK’s giant C5 Galaxy aircraft supporting  the French may be flying out of RAF Gibraltar, no doubt to the irritation of the  hyper-sensitive Spanish Foreign Ministry, merely adds icing to the cake.

The best approach we can make to maintain our national security is much  simpler and less dramatic than babbling about ‘existential threats’ far away. It  involves plain commonsense and sustained effort in three rather obvious areas in  which the coalition government has a dismal record – securing our borders,  balancing our books and maintaining strong armed forces. ·

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Categories: Benghazi, Intelligence Gathering, Military Intelligence, Petraeus Compromise

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