The fight for Libya

As a debate continues in Washington and other Western capitals on the necessity, advisability or feasibility of some kind of foreign intervention in Libya, Britain has demonstrated why Libyans of any persuasion have good reason to question the intentions of outsiders.

After a British “diplomatic team” made up of six SAS special forces soldiers and two MI6 intelligence officers was captured four days ago, Libyan revolutionary commanders reasonably asked how they were supposed to know that their captives represented the British government and were not in fact a group of Israeli spies.

According to Guardian sources, the British intelligence and special forces unit were caught near the al-Khadra Farm Company, 18 miles (30km) south-west of Benghazi. A senior member of Benghazi’s revolutionary council said: “They were carrying espionage equipment, reconnaissance equipment, multiple passports and weapons. This is no way to conduct yourself during an uprising.

“Gaddafi is bringing in thousands of mercenaries to kill us, most are using foreign passports and how do we know who these people are?

“They say they’re British nationals and some of the passports they have are British. But the Israelis used British passports to kill that man in Dubai last year.”

The Guardian reported:

The six SAS troops and two MI6 officers were seized by Libyan rebels in the eastern part of the country after arriving by helicopter four days ago. They left on HMS Cumberland, the frigate that had docked in Benghazi to evacuate British and other EU nationals as Libya lurched deeper into conflict. The diplomatic team’s departure marked a perfunctory end to a bizarre and botched venture.

“I can confirm that a small British diplomatic team has been in Benghazi,” said William Hague, the foreign secretary. “The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved. They have now left Libya.”

Audio of a telephone conversation between the UK’s ambassador to Libya, Richard Northern, and a senior rebel leader was later leaked.

Northern suggested in the call that the SAS team had been detained due to a misunderstanding.

The rebel leader responded: “They made a big mistake, coming with a helicopter in an open area.”

Northern said: “I didn’t know how they were coming.”

Despite the failure of the mission, Hague indicated that Britain would continue to try to make contact with the opposition.

“We intend, in consultation with the opposition, to send a further team to strengthen our dialogue in due course,” he said. “This diplomatic effort is part of the UK’s wider work on Libya, including our ongoing humanitarian support. We continue to press for Gaddafi to step down and we will work with the international community to support the legitimate ambitions of the Libyan people.”

The Financial Times reports:

The oppositions’ volunteer forces have shown a willingness to go into battle, but lack the capacity to launch a big offensive. The fighting over the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf has been over in hours and it has not been clear if regime forces tactically withdrew or were defeated. Col. Gaddafi’s forces have air superiority and are better equipped, but appear to be concentrated on regaining control of the western cities of Zawiya and Misurata, and there has been no major battle for cities in the east. The opposition has ruled out any negotiations and know that if they did give up their fight they would probably be the victims of a backlash from the regime.

What started as a popular uprising increasingly bears the hallmarks of a civil war and a country split between the opposition-controlled east and the regime’s strongholds of Tripoli, Sirte and Sabha in the south. Army, air force and navy units have defected and increasing numbers of civilians are donning looted military uniforms and taking up weapons to fight Col Gaddafi’s forces.

The opposition says that if the international community imposes a no-fly zone and launches air strikes against regime forces’ strongholds, they can win although they have repeatedly warned against the deployment of foreign ground troops, saying that would create another Iraq or Afghanistan. But Col Gaddafi has proved that he is willing to use all means to retain power and will not give up without a huge fight.

Reuters political risk correspondent, Peter Apps, reports:

Foreign powers hope threatening Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with a war crimes trial at The Hague will help drive him from office, but some worry such talk might instead leave him thinking he has no way out.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court following its crackdown on protesters. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said on Monday attacks on civilians could be a crime against humanity and warranted a full investigation.

But — just as with previous ICC probes into Congolese warlords, Sudan’s president and Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army — there is the lingering worry that prosecutions will make compromise and finding a solution harder.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that there is simply no real way to know what impact the threat will have on Libya’s always somewhat erratic leader.

“It’s a difficult balancing act,” said Alia Brahimi, a research fellow on North Africa at the London School of Economics. “There is a risk that taking an absolute moral and legalistic approach and talking about war crimes charges simply reinforces Gaddafi’s idea that he has nowhere else to go and no option to step down. But on the flip side, it sends a strong message to those around him.”

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6 thoughts on “The fight for Libya

  1. scott

    Have you not heard anything about drones? I think those could escape the anti-aircraft defenses, while inflicting a targeted blow. I asked a couple of weeks ago if you would support dropping a couple on MK and his coterie, I’m still waiting for your answer.

  2. blowback

    Perhaps hauling Tony Blair and George Bush/Dick Cheney in front of the ICC would reassure people that Western justice is impartial.

  3. Colm O' Toole

    Only thing I heard about drones is this one-liner on the Al Jazeera live blog.

    12:09pm: Aircraft that appears to be a unmanned drone spotted by Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland in Ras Lanuf.


    The site doesn’t have any follow ups on it. I’m assuming if Jacky Rowland is right and its a drone, then more than likely its being used for surveillance (since the rebels took the town yesterday).

    All in all though alot of information coming out indicating that the US/Britain is getting heavily involved. It’s a bad sign that the SAS are on the ground (and getting captured by the rebels) aside from the propoganda coup for Gaddaffi since he can portray any on the ground support as an invasion I can imagine a somalia type situation if any special forces soldiers get killed in combat.

  4. chris m

    “the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. …. If the Saudi government accedes to America’s request to send guns and missiles to Libyan rebels, however, it would be almost impossible for President Barack Obama to condemn the kingdom for any violence against the Shias of the north-east provinces. Thus has the Arab awakening, the demand for democracy in North Africa, the Shia revolt and the rising against Gaddafi become entangled in the space of just a few hours with US military priorities in the region.”

    It seems that the US and the UK are angling toward planting another satrap of the West in Libya after Gaddafi.

  5. chris m

    March 7 Guardian Editorial:

    “The moral strength of the Libyan rebels and their political claim to represent the true voice of the people both rest partly on the fact that, like the Egyptians and the Tunisians, they have come this far alone. The revolt is theirs, they are no one else’s proxy, and the struggle is about ending tyranny rather than searching for new masters. Even if Gaddafi’s forces succeed in checking the advance of rebel forces, and the civil war becomes protracted, it is the home-grown nature of this revolt that contains the ultimate seeds of the destruction of Gaddafi’s regime.”

    The West should not intervene.

  6. scott

    The thing is I don’t know which side they are on. That is the question isn’t it? I read reports that Algerian soldiers were caught/spotted serving on behalf of Khadaffi. Now, it’s possible those were mercs, but if they were authorized by Alg. Gov’t, that must mean France and the US signed off on that. On the media did a nice story about how those fighting Khadaffi were suddenly referred to as “Rebels” rather than freedom fighters/protesters. The reporter says they at the Times/WaPo (can’t remember) decided that was more accurate since they aren’t unarmed or peaceful in the same way the Egyptians were. Only I have joined these two stories, and drawing any conspiratorial connection would be premature

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