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Libya: could ground troops be deployed?

William Hague says UN resolution “doesn’t exclude every type of operation”.

The bizarrely named Operation Odyssey Dawn is now fully under way. US and British ships have fired 112 Tomahawk missiles on to more than 20 radar systems, communications centers and surface-to-air missile sites. Libyan state TV has reported 48 dead and 150 wounded but we've had no independent confirmation of those figures.

While David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy have been keen to emphasise the breadth of the international coalition against Gaddafi (Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have confirmed that they will be contributing forces), it's worth noting that we heard some dissenting voices overnight. China and Russia, which chose not to wield their veto power at the UN, have now explicitly condemned the attacks.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said the country "consistently disagrees with the use of force in international relations". Elsewhere, the African Union has called for an "immediate stop" to all attacks and Hugo Chávez has predictably denounced the US and the UK as "the masters of war".

He said:

More death, more war. They are the masters of war. What irresponsibility. And behind that is the hand of the United States and its European allies. They want to seize Libya's oil. The lives of Libya's people don't matter to them at all.

It is deplorable that once again the warmongering policy of the Yankee empire and its allies is being imposed, and it is deplorable that the United Nations lends itself to supporting war, infringing on its fundamental principles instead of urgently forming a commission to go to Libya.

One of the most important questions remains whether British ground troops could be deployed at any stage. UN Resolution 1973 rules out a "foreign occupation force" in any part of Libya, but this doesn't prohibit the limited use of troops.

When pressed on this point during an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, George Osborne offered little clarity. But later on Sky News, William Hague said: "It is true, there can't be an occupation force . . . it doesn't exclude every type of operation." He added that there would be no "invasion" by ground troops, but made it clear that the government has some room for manoeuvre.

Should air strikes fail to dislodge Gaddafi, ministers may be forced to make a decision earlier than many expect.

Tags:Libya