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.

 

Tougher penalties as UAE updates counter-terrorism law

Three senior Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commanders killed in Gaza

Obama demands world action against jihadist ‘cancer’

France delivered arms to Syrian rebels 'a few months ago'

British jihadists on forefront on IS propaganda

Abbas holds talks with Meshaal in Doha

Iraq Kurds face real challenges in fight against IS jihadists

Death toll in Syria war tops 180,000

US reveals failed operation to rescue American hostages in Syria

Somali journalists face trial for ‘violence incitement’

Iran asks West: What is our reward for help against IS jihadists?

Turkey ruling party meets to agree Davutoglu as PM

Kuwait nabs suspected Al-Nusra Front financier

Hamas armed wing declares end to truce talks in Cairo

Tribal clashes kill dozens of people in troubled Darfur

Dubai real estate giant to repay debt four years ahead

Egypt hopes power cuts could ease next week

Jihadist beheading of US journalist sparks worldwide revulsion

Iran provides ‘advice’ to Kurds fighting IS jihadists in Iraq

Power cuts and petrol shortages: Life grows increasingly difficult in Libya

Suspected attack by Kurdish rebels kills one Turkish soldier

UN launches huge aid operation in northern Iraq

Israel pounds Gaza as mourners cry ‘revenge’

Outgoing first lady breaks silence on ‘falsehoods’ against Turkey President

Ex CIA boss: journalist's killing 'first IS terrorist attack against US

Scores of armed Yemen rebels boost positions in capital

Sinai jihadists punish supporters of Egypt army with decapitation

Germany ready to support Iraq Kurds in battle against ‘barbaric’ IS

Iran’s 'reformist' science minister sacked

Turkey assures Ocalan Kurdish peace process will press ahead

Hollande: international situation ‘most serious’ since 2001

Israeli minister: ‘Deif deserves to die’

German minister accuses Qatar of financing IS

US hits back at criticism of Ferguson racial unrest

Jihadists to US: stop air strikes or we will behead second reporter

Temporary Gaza ceasefire goes up in smoke

Islamic State in Syria: Not few brainwashed people but whole army

Egypt to US: Show us how you deal with unrest in Ferguson

Turkey seeks to revive peace talks with Iraq Kurdish rebels

Tit-for-tat attacks break Gaza ceasefire

Huthi rebels cook up ‘armed coup’ in Yemen capital

Flood of weapons in South Sudan: Who’s not to blame?

After morale boosting victory, Iraq forces intensify attacks on IS

Multi-national Arab Bank on trial for supporting terror

Violence-hit Libya gradually boosting oil output