Brits use secret unit to shut off Qaddafi's oil spigot


David Cameron has been operating a secret unit in Whitehall charged with undertaking covert economic operations to choke the Gaddafi regime of the one thing it had in abundance: oil.

The "Libyan oil cell" was run by the international development minister Alan Duncan and helped to strengthen sanctions against the oil-rich country, blocking supplies of crude oil to the dictator's side while allowing petrol and diesel to flow to the rebels.

But the government is likely to face intense scrutiny over the fact that the unit was involved in linking the rebels to a Swiss oil firm, Vitol, which has been credited with keeping the revolutionary engine running through the war. Duncan was previously a consultant with the firm and has close personal ties to its chairman, Ian Taylor. Taylor has also been a Conservative donor in the past.

The unit was backed by Cameron and William Hague, the foreign secretary, and involved half-a-dozen officials with help from MI6. It was tasked with working out how to control the flow of oil in and out of the country. Sources close to the project claim that in the last weeks of the dictatorship, Gaddafi struggled to keep his forces on the move with his refined oil stocks depleted by 90%, while rebels gathered momentum as they began to trade the nation's crude for refined petrol and diesel.

A Whitehall source said: "We have, as a British initiative, driven the entire significance of oil as the most crucial non-lethal weapon in this conflict. The energy noose tightened around Tripoli's neck. It was much more effective and easier to repair than bombs. It is like taking the key of the car away. You can't move. The great thing is you can switch it all back on again if Gaddafi goes. It is not the same as if you have bombed the whole city to bits."

It was in face a sophisticated logistic strategy supplying one side and denying supplies to the other. It appears to have worked brilliantly. The UK should be conratulated for running the operation. I see not need for "intense scrutiny" for accomplishing a war time objective in a non lethal fashion.


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