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UK could send ground troops to Libya after go-ahead from MPs: Minister

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond appears to warn that IS could use migration routes out of Libya to 'infiltrate' Europe
Hammond visited Libya last week to give his backing to the new UN-backed unity government (AFP)

British ground troops could be sent to fight in Libya, the British foreign secretary hinted on Sunday, stressing that the decision would need to be put before MPs.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Philip Hammond said he could not rule out sending combat forces to the North African country to fight a growing Islamic State (IS) presence, as he does not know how the situation could develop.

“It wouldn't make sense to rule anything out,” the official said.

“But if there were ever any question of a British combat role in any form – ground, sea or air – that would go to the House of Commons.”

The statement appears to contradict Hammond's assertion less than a week ago that British troops could be sent to Libya without first gaining permission from parliament because they would be sent on a training rather than a combat mission.

Hammond warned on Sunday that if allowed to continue growing, IS could use Libya as a base to “infiltrate” Europe, hinting that the militants could use migration routes linking Libya with the Italian island of Lampedusa some 160 kilometres across the Mediterranean.

“If [Islamic State] became established in Libya and sought to use that established base to infiltrate terrorists into Europe, that would be a threat to us all.”

The UK has pledged support to a UN-backed unity government that was installed in Libya earlier this month, and is attempting to assert control in the country's fractured political landscape.

Hammond stressed on Sunday that any military action would only come as a result of a request from the unity government, saying that he does not expect an official request any time soon.

British naval forces are already engaged in waters off Libya - Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said on Saturday that an intelligence-gathering operation by HMS Enterprise aimed at combating arms smuggling is to be expanded.

Though UK officials have denied that combat troops are already engaged on the ground in Libya, Jordan's King Abdullah in January disclosed that soldiers from the elite Special Air Services (SAS) were carrying out covert anti-IS operations in the country, Middle East Eye revealed last month.