By James Kirkup, Robert Winnett, Jon Swaine and Richard Spencer
British forces will take part in military operations against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, David Cameron has said.
RAF warplanes will be in place “in the coming hours”, the Prime Minister told MPs.
As Gaddafi’s forces regain ground from rebel forces, Britain “cannot stand back” and let the Libyan dictator kill his people indiscriminately, he said.
“Any decision to put the men and women of our armed services in harm’s way should only ever be taken when it’s absolutely necessary,” Mr Cameron said. “But we simply can not stand back and let a dictator whose people have rejected him, kill his people indiscriminately.”
RAF Tornadoes and Typhoons will take part in operations over Libya, Mr Cameron said. British refuelling and reconnaissance aircraft will also be deployed.
“In the coming hours they will move to airbases where they can start to take the necessary action,” he said.
“I pay attribute to the brave members of our Armed Forces who will be carrying out this work,” he added.
Military action follows a United Nations Security Resolution, backed by Britain, France and the US. The Arab League has also called for a no-fly zone, and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are expected to contribute forces to any military operation.
Mr Cameron also signalled that Britain’s own national security will be at risk from Libyan-backed terrorist attacks if Gaddafi’s regime survives.
“We know what Gaddafi is capable of – the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil,” he told MPs.
“We simply cannot have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border.”
Although he said Britain does not have formal policy of regime change, he signalled that Gaddafi must go. It is “almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him,” Mr Cameron said.
Mr Cameron’s statement came amid reports that Western forces could launch bombing raids against the Libyan regime within hours after the UN backed international military action.
The first raids, possibly conducted by unmanned drones, could happen within hours if Colonel Gaddafi acts on his threat to “show no mercy” to rebels in Benghazi.
The RAF could become involved in any operation by this evening, according to British sources. However, the raids may be spearheaded by an Arab nation such as Qatar or the UAE.
Last night, Col Gaddafi threatened to launch retaliation attacks against passenger aircraft in the Mediterranean if foreign countries launch air strikes against Libya.
The Libyan regime said that “any foreign military act” would expose “all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea” as targets for a counter attack.
Last night, the UN met and endorsed a resolution which authorised the world to take “all necessary measures” to prevent attacks on Libyan civilians by the Gaddafi regime.
It also enforced a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks, strengthened an arms embargo against Tripoli and reinforced a freeze on the financial assets of Gaddafi and his aides.
The resolution, which was proposed by the US, Britain and Lebanon, caused a split among leading powers, with China, Russia, Germany, India and Brazil all abstaining from voting.
While Britain and the US were at pains to stress that the resolution ruled out an “occupying force”, they raised the prospect of more assistance to rebel forces seeking to overthrow Gaddafi.
Celebratory gunfire rang out across Benghazi last night.
However, in a statement, the Libyan Defence Ministry warned of swift retaliation against foreign intervention.
Any military action authorised by the UN is likely to prove controversial as both the German and Italian governments have spoken out against the move to halt the month-long civil war in Libya.
Yesterday, residential areas of Ajdabiyah, a strategic town on the coast road to Benghazi, were the scene of heavy fighting and about 30 people were reported to have been killed.
On the approaches to Ajdabiyah, burnt-out cars lay by the roadside while Libyan government forces showed the foreign media artillery, tanks and mobile rocket launchers.