24 January 2012

Covert UK Ops on the Ground in Libya

Mark Urban (no known relation to Keith) has a great article about the UK's covert actions on the ground during the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.

The first significant involvement of British forces inside Libya was a rescue mission mounted just a couple of weeks after the rising against Gaddafi broke out. On 3 March, Royal Air Force C130 aircraft were sent to a desert airstrip at Zilla in the south of the country to rescue expatriate oil workers. Many had been threatened by gunmen and bandits.

This airlift of 150 foreigners, including about 20 Britons, to Valletta airport in Malta went smoothly, despite one of the aircraft being hit by ground fire soon after taking off.

Accompanying the flights were about two dozen men from C Squadron of the Special Boat Service (SBS), who helped secure the landing zone. It was a short-term and discreet intervention that saved the workers from risk of abduction or murder, and caused little debate in Whitehall.

OK, so not bad. But after another debacle (read the article - amazing these guys dorked up that bad) the straightjacket went on the ROE.

When half a dozen British officers arrived at a seaside hotel in Benghazi at the beginning of April, they were unarmed and their role was strictly limited. They had been told to help the NTC set up a nascent defence ministry, located in a commandeered factory on the outskirts of the city.

The first and most basic task of the advisory team was to get the various bands of Libyan fighters roaring around in armed pick-up trucks under some sort of central co-ordination. As reporters had discovered, most of these men had little idea of what they were doing, and soon panicked if they thought Col Gaddafi's forces were attacking or outflanking them.

There were a number of legal issues preventing them giving more help. Some Whitehall lawyers argued that any type of presence on the ground was problematic. Legal doubts were raised about arming the NTC or targeting Col Gaddafi.

Once the air operation was put on a proper Nato footing, these issues became even more vexed, insiders say, with the alliance saying it would not accept men on the ground "directing air strikes" in a way that some newspapers, even in late spring, were speculating was already happening.

The British government's desire to achieve the overthrow of Gaddafi while accommodating the legal sensitivities registered by various Whitehall departments led to some frustration among those who were meant to make the policy work.

This is the kind of news story you can see growing into a complete book, and an interesting one at that.

By: Brant


Anonymous said...

Urban is a gamer.

Brant said...

Hey Aneliya! Long time, no see! Where'd you hear about Urban being a gamer? I wonder if he'd be interested in talking games with us some day...?