WASHINGTON (AFP) - In a rare public rebuke of two of Washington's closest allies, President Barack Obama has hit out at British Prime Minister David Cameron and former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy over their roles in Libya after the fall of the Kadhafi regime.
Cameron became "distracted" and Sarkozy wanted to promote his country during the 2011 NATO-led military intervention in Libya, Obama said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine published Thursday. (March 10)
British daily The Independent Friday called Obama's comments "an unprecedented attack on a British leader by a serving US President," while The Times called the criticism "extraordinary."
In the extensive interview, Obama discussed the conditions surrounding the British and French-led bombing campaign that led to the fall of Moamer Kadhafi's regime.
Obama said when he considered what went wrong in Libya, "there's room for criticism because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya's proximity, being invested in the follow-up." Cameron stopped paying attention soon after the military operation, he said, becoming "distracted by a range of other things."
Since Kadhafi's downfall, Libya has descended into near-anarchy, ruled by rival militias vying for power while the Islamic State group has gained influence in the country.
Contacted by AFP, a spokesman for Cameron said: "We agree that there are still many difficult challenges in Libya.
"But as the prime minister has said many times before, coming to the aid of innocent civilians who were being tortured and killed by their leader was the right thing to do," he said.
The spokesman said Britain supported peace efforts in Libya "but ultimately a positive outcome for Libya is not just up to the international community.
"This process needs to be led by the Libyan people." Despite the strong reaction in the British press, Britain's former ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer said on Twitter that it was a "storm in a diplomatic teacup."
Britain puts strong emphasis on its diplomatic "special relationship" with the United States, and The Times said Cameron was hoping for Obama's support for his pro-EU stance ahead of a membership referendum on June 23.
Obama was also critical of France, saying Sarkozy during the bombing campaign wanted to "trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure" for the operation.
Britain joined France in bombing Libya to help rebels fighting Kadhafi.
Both Cameron and Sarkozy have faced strong criticism domestically for the chaos that ensued.