Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi
Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi

The British military and political leadership appears to be divided over whether Colonel Gaddafi is a legitimate target for airstrikes and missile attacks, following the passage of United Nations Resolution 1973.

The Resolution, passed late last week, allows "all necessary measures" to be taken to protect civilians from attack by forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi. However the Resolution specifically forbids the use of ground troops.

Yesterday British Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, indicated that Colonel Gaddafi himself may be targeted by allied attacks. One of Colonel Gaddafi's "command bunkers" has already been targeted.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live he said, "[Assassinating Gaddafi] would potentially be a possibility but you mention immediately one of the problems we would have, which is that you would have to take into account any civilian casualties that might result from that.

"And at all times we are very careful to avoid that for its humanitarian reasons, but also for the propaganda reasons that it would provide for the regime itself."

The possibility of killing the Libyan leader was also apparently kept open by British Foreign Secretary, William Hague. When asked if Colonel Gaddafi is a potential target Mr Hague said he "would not speculate" on targets, but added that, "The targeting that we do in these kind of strikes will always be in accordance with the UN resolution, with an emphasis on protecting civilians."

Despite the apparent willingness of Britain's political leadership to keep an open mind on assassinating Colonel Gaddafi, the military appear to be firmly against such a tactic.

General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff, said that Colonel Gaddafi is "absolutely not" a target, adding that such an action is not permitted by the UN Resolution, which only calls for the protection of civilians.

An attack on Colonel Gaddafi has not just been opposed by the head of the British military, but has also had cold water poured over it by the Defence Secretary of the USA, Robert Gates.

Mr Gates said, "If we start adding additional objectives [to those in Resolution 1973] then I think we create a problem in that respect. I also think it is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve."