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British MPs demand answers on military deployment to Libya

Foreign affairs select committee demands public statement from foreign secretary on imminent plans to deploy 1,000 troops
There are concerns that the UK is set to announce the deployment of 1,000 troops to Libya (AFP)

British MPs are demanding answers from government ministers after it learned on an overseas trip that the UK could sent up to 1,000 soldiers to Libya at the request of the country's unity government.

In a letter to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, the foreign affairs select committee said on Tuesday it had become aware of "UK plans to contribute 1,000 ground troops to a 6,000-strong international force which will be deployed to Libya in the near future".

The letter states that the committee was made aware of the plan during a visit to Egypt and Tunisia and that the deployment would be announced without further consultation later this week.

But the defence ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that Britain has no plans to extend bombing or send troops to Libya.

On Saturday, Libya's UN-backed unity government said it was taking office despite lacking parliamentary approval, with its US and European allies urging it to move to Tripoli and begin governing.

In the letter, the British parliamentary committee's chairman said: "We heard that the GNA's (Government of National Accord's) likely first formal action will be to request that the UK and its allies conduct air strikes against ISIL (IS) targets in Libya.

"The pre-emptive deployment of UK military forces is now a matter for the House of Commons.

"It appears the defence secretary will agree the UK contribution to this force at a European conference this week."

"I therefore request that you make a statement to the House on the state of the plan for any deployment of UK military forces in Libya before the defence secretary agrees the UK component of any international force.

It urges the the government to "explain how this deployment is consistent with our policy objectives".

But a government spokeswoman said that the foreign affairs committee was "wrong on a number of counts".

"There are no plans to extend air strikes to Libya nor are there plans to send British troops to provide security on the ground in Libya," the spokeswoman said.

"It is therefore also wrong to suggest the Defence Secretary will agree any UK contribution this week."

The UK has already sent an adviser team to the border of Tunisia and Libya to aid Tunisian forces in their fight against IS-aligned militants.

British forces last week reportedly helped direct Tunisian forces' response to an attack on Ben Guerdan, not far from the tourist resort of Djerba.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 toppling of Muammar Gaddafi allowed groups including Islamic State to gain significant ground.

Italy has agreed to lead a UN-mandated international stabilisation force into its troubled former colony, but the sticking point has been getting credible cover from a national authority.

The international force would seek to train the Libyan army and protect the newly-formed government, the committee said.