First Published: 2011-03-07

 

Libyan rebels refuse talks with British team after SAS 'blunder'

 

SAS troops, diplomats, leave Libya after being arrested by Libyan rebels who reject their involvement.

 

Middle East Online

By Guy Jackson - LONDON

Rebels fear Western military interference would give public support for Gathafi

The British government was left red-faced Monday after a botched attempt by special forces to make contact with opposition forces in Libya ended in the team being seized by rebels.

The team, reportedly made up of six soldiers from the elite SAS and two diplomats, flew into Libya by helicopter and made their way to the opposition-held city of Benghazi.

But they were rounded up by lightly armed rebels soon after they arrived, reports said.

The diplomats are believed to have been officers from Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service whose mission was to contact rebel leaders and open the way for a delegation.

But they succeeded only in angering Libyan opposition leaders who denied they had asked for any help and by late Sunday they had been packed off to Malta on a British naval ship.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague was to make a statement to lawmakers on the operation later Monday.

After the government initially kept silent on the affair, Hague confirmed Sunday that "a small diplomatic team has been in Benghazi" and said their intention had been "to initiate contacts with the opposition".

"They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved. They have now left Libya," he added.

However, Hague insisted that Britain intended to send "a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course" although he stressed this would be done in cooperation with the Libyan opposition.

In Benghazi itself, an opposition spokesman said the rebels had refused to talk to the delegation because they had entered the country without prior permission.

"We do not know the nature of their mission. We refused to discuss anything with them due to the way they entered the country," spokesman Abdul Hafiz Ghoqa told reporters in the rebel stronghold.

The Britons left Benghazi for Malta on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland, reports said.

The bungled operation raised eyebrows because Britain prides itself on the competence of the SAS, which is believed to play a major role in the conflict in Afghanistan as well as in past wars in Iraq and the Falklands.

The Times asked why the SAS had felt it necessary to carry out such a cloak-and-dagger operation when it would have been possible for the team to simply drive into Benghazi.

"Nabbed while escorting a junior diplomat in a city that would have welcomed them... this was not their finest hour," the newspaper said.

The Daily Telegraph, traditionally a pro-armed forces newspaper, said the mission was a "blunder" which had handed a propaganda coup to Libyan leader Moamer Gathafi.

The Sunday Times had reported that the uninvited appearance of the SAS alongside the diplomat "angered Libyan opposition figures who ordered the soldiers to be locked up in a military base".

Opponents of Kadhafi "fear he could use any evidence of Western military interference to rally patriotic support for his regime", the weekly broadsheet added.

Britain's government has made a faltering start to its handling of the Libyan crisis.

Prime Minister David Cameron banged the drum for the imposition of a no-fly zone last week, only to backtrack rapidly to say it was no more than "contingency planning".

And in the first days of the revolt, Hague drew fire for suggesting that Gathafi had fled to Venezuela.

 

An extraordinary meeting: Gulf ministers agree to end tension with Qatar

US releases $450 million Iranian frozen assets

‘Retaliation is life’ group vows to attack Egypt security forces

Gunmen storm South Sudan UN base killing 20

Malaysia activists: Obama you are not welcome here!

Kidnappers of Tunisian diplomat demand jailed Libyans release

Landmine blasts Tunisia soldier amid growing jihadist threat

Marzouki sets an 'example' by cutting salary by two-thirds

Rouhani: Iran does not intend to be aggressive but can defend itself

Turkey to Russia: We demand a gas price revision

For Massacre-scarred Algeria village, peace is worth more than wealth

An act of heroism: Iraq policeman sacrifices himself to shield army recruits

UK ‘determined to catch’ killer of Libya embassy policewoman

Experts: Washington demanded removal of Saudi spy chief

Future of Algeria on wheelchair

Palestinians rally for solidarity with Israel-held prisoners

Turkey may clinch bid to dismantle Italy’s wrecked ship

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators to hold meeting with US envoy

UN ‘gravely concerned’ about South Sudan oil state fighting

South Sudan war: Child soldiers consumed by desire for retribution

Algerians casting their vote for president

Syria world’s most perilous country fro journalists

Egypt jails ex-presidential hopeful for fraud

Egypt leftist leader urges all revolutionary groups to unite

Jordan ‘destroyed’ combat vehicles entering from Syria

South Sudan army loses key oil town of Bentiu

Lebanon parliament soon to elect new president

Zarif to discuss Caspion Sea states in Russia

MERS spreading in Saudi Arabia

Algeria finally opens its piggybank to lure back exiled youth

Suicide bombs rock Ramadi government compound

Three Palestinians killed in Gaza blast

Peace talks delayed after Palestine blamed for fatal shooting

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Al-Aqsa

Undercover New York police unit that spied on Muslims disbanded

Washington will not issue visa for Iran UN envoy

British paedophile gets 20-year sentence in Morocco

Syria army fights its way into besieged Homs

Invisible Bouteflika urges Algerians to vote

Saudi Arabia replaces powerful intelligence chief

Benflis mobilizes ‘army’ to monitor Algeria election

Syria army advances on rebel-held neighbourhoods in Homs

Egypt court bans any Brotherhood candidacies in upcoming elections

Turkey rights groups sound alarm at plan to build gay-only prisons

Kuwait coup plot video ‘neither genuine nor reliable’