In the Defence Select Committee on Wednesday, we took evidence from Admiral Sir George Zambellas, General Sir Nicholas Carter, Air Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, and General Sir Richard Barrons, on the Future Force 2020 initiative and on the issues surrounding the Bassingbourn training camp this week. This is obviously a key issue and one which will be important to continue investigating in the coming months as the situation in Libya evolves. The following is a brief excerpt from the evidence we received from General Sir Carter.
QMs Gisela Stuart: Would you reflect that the perimeter fences ought to have been more effectively controlled?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: The Bassingbourn site is not a prison camp; it is extraordinarily difficult to control in that sense. From our perspective, we have done everything we can to motivate them to be entirely focused on training. Indeed, we have run an extremely tough walking-out policy in conjunction with the Home Office, which has helped us in all of this. The upshot of it is that it is absolutely regrettable that this has occurred.
QMs Stuart: On reflection, you may wish to use a slightly stronger word than just “regrettable”, but let’s leave that for the moment. Given that training the Libyan forces on UK territory was one of the key elements of the Government’s long-term strategy, where do we go from here?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: Well, I think to be fair to me as the service chief who provides the trainers, I was not involved in the making of the policy that suggested that Bassingbourn was the right solution to all of that. I suspect that it would be more appropriate for that question to perhaps be directed at the centre of Defence rather than me as the service chief.
QMs Stuart: So if the Prime Minister rings you up and says “This didn’t quite work, what do you suggest we do now?” what will you tell him?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: Again, I don’t think I am that well qualified to advise. What I do is provide troops to these sorts of tasks. I am not involved in the policy judgments and decisions that are made inside and about Libya.
QMs Stuart: We have got the four Service Chiefs in front of us. A major decision has been made in terms of Britain’s foreign policy and how we respond. It involves the training of Libyan troops. We now have to send them back early, when their training is not complete. Who do I ask what we do next if it is not you?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: I think the problem in Libya is essentially a political problem.
QMs Stuart: No, no. These trainees come over to the UK. They are in a UK military base. They are supposed to be performing a training programme. Some of them go AWOL and commit sexual offences. Some of them are now seeking political asylum. Something has gone seriously wrong. May I suggest, given that you were organising this, it somehow happened under your watch?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: I don’t deny that. We are working very closely with the police force up in Cambridge to try to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. The answer to all of that will be resolved quite soon, I am sure.
QMs Stuart: Are you aware that some of them have sought political asylum?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: Yes.
QMs Stuart: And would you think that would be appropriate?
General Sir Nicholas Carter: No, probably not.