This is all kinds of fucked up.
The Ministry of Defence has put its programme to train Libyan soldiers at an army barracks in Cambridgeshire on hold after it fell into disarray. Almost a third of recruits have already been withdrawn and there have been a series of criminal charges and convictions for sex offences.
Originally, the MoD planned to train 2,000 Libyans, many of them former revolutionaries, at the Bassingbourn base. But now the first cohort of 300 recruits is being sent home and the further training of Libyan soldiers is in doubt.
The Guardian has learned that the scheme has been beset with problems since it began in June and the MoD has admitted that 90 recruits – almost a third of the 325 who were carefully selected to take part in the programme – have “withdrawn”.
The MoD confirmed that some left following disciplinary and behavioural issues while others returned home for personal and medical reasons. It is understood that some of the recruits expressed little interest in the training on offer.
Five officers have also been charged with sexual offences including rape. Recruits had been ordered to stay on the base and trips cancelled, but local MP Andrew Lansley claimed on Monday that this was not being adhered to and wrote to the MoD calling on them to end the scheme. He said the consequences of soldiers going on unescorted trips had been “unacceptable”.
A number of the recruits, believed to be about 20, have also claimed asylum although both the Home Office and the MoD have refused to confirm or deny this. Questions are being asked about the way the MoD has managed this programme.
An MoD spokesman insisted the group had been carefully chosen after undergoing immigration, security and medical checks and that the majority had responded positively, but admitted there had been disciplinary issues.
The spokesman said: “As part of our ongoing support for the Libyan government, we will review how best to train Libyan security forces – including whether training further tranches of recruits in the UK is the best way forward. The majority of recruits have responded positively to the training despite the ongoing political uncertainty in Libya but there have been disciplinary issues.
“Training was initially expected to last until the end of November but we have agreed with the Libyan government that it is best for all involved to bring forward the training completion date. The recruits will be returning to Libya in the coming days.”
Two of the Libyan soldiers have been charged with raping a man in Cambridge. Moktar Ali Saad Mahmoud, 33, and Ibrahim Abogutila, 22, are due to appear before Cambridge magistrates court on Tuesday accused of carrying out the attack on Sunday 26 October.
Last week, Libyan cadets Ibrahim Naji el Maarfi, 20, and Mohammed Abdalsalam, 27, appeared before the same court to admit two counts of sexual assault. They are also due to be sentenced on Tuesday.
El Maarfi faces two counts of sexual assault and one count of exposure. Abdalsalam faces charges includingsexual assault.
Khaled el Azibi, 18, has also been charged with three counts of sexual assault, but has yet to enter a plea.
The Libyan government had originally agreed to pay for this training. However, the MoD has now acknowledged that it may incur some costs. The MoD said that if any further costs had been incurred as a result of the training programme they would be announced “in due course”.
According to the MoD, the Libyan training allowance covers the difference in prices of commodities between the UK and Libya and is set by the Libyan government at up to £140 a week for each trainee.
In 2013, the G8 countries agreed to support Libya’s efforts to increase the effectiveness and capacity of its security and justice sector institutions. In support of this effort, the UK, US and other European partners agreed to train more than 7,000 Libyan troops to help Libya disarm and integrate armed groups, and improve the security and stability of the country and the region.
As part of this package, David Cameron announced that the UK would train up to 2,000 Libyan armed forces personnel in basic infantry and junior command skills.