Moral Low Ground

US Government

Mission Fail: British Special Forces, Armed Diplomats Detained & Expelled from Libya

A group of eight British Special Air Service (SAS) troops and armed diplomats on a mission in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Libya have been arrested and expelled from the country, the Telegraph reports. According to that paper, the elite troops and armed diplomats were sent in a botched attempt to establish diplomatic contact with anti-government rebels, who have been in open revolt against the 41-year rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi since February 15. The mission was approved by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who had already established telephone contact with rebel leaders.

An “advance guard” was then sent to Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the rebels’ main stronghold. “The team went to Libya to initiate contacts with the opposition. They experienced difficulties,” Secretary Hague reported. The group, which according to Britain’s Telegraph was armed with weapons, maps and explosives and dressed in plain black clothing, made a pre-dawn landing near Benghazi and was greeted by warning shots. They were quickly surrounded  by rebels who demanded to know who they were and what they were doing in Libya.

Things went from bad to worse when members of the group lied and said they were unarmed. But the rebels soon discovered their weapons and arrested them all, taking them to a nearby military base where they were permitted a visit by British diplomats. Richard Northern, the UK ambassador to Libya, called a rebel leader in an attempt to resolve the situation. Unbeknownst to Northern, the call was recorded by Libyan authorities and the tape was played on state television, a further embarrassment to the British.

A spokesman for Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Col Gaddafi’s former justice minister and now senior rebel leader, said the British “made a big mistake coming with a helicopter in an open area.” Libyans do not want foreigners to intervene in their struggle against Gaddafi and are wary of Westerners’ intentions in the oil-rich country.

By Sunday afternoon, the situation was resolved, with the British allowed to leave– without their weapons, which were confiscated. Now British authorities are left to scratch their heads and wonder how it all went pear-shaped.

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