UK special forces flounder in Libya
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague (Getty images)
March 7th, 2011
03:29 PM ET

UK special forces flounder in Libya

As the UN's Security Council meets to draft a text on whether, when, and how to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, spare a thought for the scenes unfolding at London's House of Commons.

According to the Guardian;

William Hague, the [UK]  foreign secretary, approved the botched plan to send a team of armed diplomats and SAS [Special Air Service] soldiers into eastern Libya in an effort to build diplomatic contacts with anti-Gaddafi rebels.

The eight M16 officers and SAS soldiers were arrested then deported after only two days in the country.

The prime minister's official spokesman was reluctant to reveal details, partly due to the involvement of special forces, but told a briefing Hague had approved the operation "in the normal way".

How could that happen to a British delegation that was trying to help? What really transpired? Hague's statement at the Commons created more questions than answers.  He said:

On 5 March opposition groups in the East formed an Interim National Council based in Benghazi. Ministers and FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] officials are in contact with members of this Council, who welcomed the idea of a British diplomatic mission to Libya....

Last week I authorised the despatch of a small British diplomatic team to Eastern Libya, in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection, to build on these initial contacts and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team. They were withdrawn yesterday after a serious misunderstanding about their role leading to their temporary detention.

The British opposition smells blood.  Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander is accusing the government of "serial bungling," saying that "The British public are entitled to wonder whether, if some new neighbors moved into the Foreign Secretary's street, he would introduce himself by ringing the doorbell or instead choose to climb over the fence in the middle of the night?"

Menzies Campbell, a former opposition leader from the Liberal Democrats, called the mission "ill-conceived, poorly planned and embarrassingly executed."

But that's just rhetoric at the Commons. It's part of the usual thrust and parry of British politics, and it's internal. The real embarrassment for Britain was played out across TV screens in Tripoli.  Here's what happened:

10 Downing Street's man in Libya was called in to explain what the "diplomats" were doing in eastern Libya.  British Ambassador Richard Northern spoke to a rebel leader to explain the mission. And, you guessed it, the call was intercepted by Gadhafi's regime and duly found its way to Libyan state television on Sunday. Now all of Libya will have a very different take on James Bond.

The whole fiasco makes it ever more important for countries to think very carefully before they engage with Libya. There's also the question of who you're dealing with in Libya – Gadhafi himself, or the varied opposition groups that are rising up in arms? And how will they respond?

As U.S. Defense Secretary Gates testified at a House hearing last week, discussing no-fly zones without fully understanding the repercussions is just "loose talk."

Topics: Covert Operations • Libya • United Kingdom

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Qdilse

    The British military like ours have absolutely no business in Libya except for humanitarian purposes. We need to stay out of Libya's civil war and stop instigating the insurrection there and let the chips fall where they may.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
    • G Hugh

      Actually, I believe you will find that as fighting began to break out it was the Royal Navy ( part of the British military ) Which rescued Us citizens living in Libya, as well as British, French and other foreign nationals, or do you think the UK left US citizens to become collateral damage?

      Of course it might be the 'business' of a different country to rescue our people?

      March 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • george

      Who can rule out Al Quida, Jehad or other Muslim Fundamentalists behind Libya Freedom Fighters Movement?
      col Gadhafi was fighting against those forces otherwise Libya already may be Muslim fundamentalist country!
      What is better for Libyan people is better for world.
      I think Libyan people like Gadhafi over Muslim Fundamentalist Regime.
      So Libyan issue is complex thing which need to handle very carefully without allowing any blood bath there.

      March 19, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  2. Jaidev Rao

    To the Editor, CNN March 7 2011

    There is an ongoing debate and Republican Party pressure on Pres. Obama to intervene militarily on the side of the Rebels in Libya. Another suggestion is to create a No-Fly zone.

    Defense Secretary Gates has rightly labeled this as 'Loose Talk'. In case US acts without concurrence and active participation of the World Powers and without a UN Security Council Resolution backing such action, and if Gaddafi survives the rebellion, we will have created a problem for the world as Libya exports 12% of the worlds petroleum exports. And our military participation on the Libyan Rebels side might create expectations in the other democratic/rebel movements in the Middle East.

    Jaidev Rao
    Los Angeles

    March 8, 2011 at 12:17 am | Reply
    • David

      Libya is not our business plain and simple, the Libyans must engage in their own self-determination efforts as bloody as it may become. The Republicans will just need to chill on this latest opportinity to engage in war-profiteering for their favored corporate interests, our goverment needs to spend money on people, infrastructure, research and development here at home.

      March 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
      • george

        Yes you are correct, british and french rulers playing political games in the trouble waters.
        How can Leaders who can't solve domestic economic and social issues solve international complex problems!

        March 19, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  3. Soulcatcher

    Let china sort libya out.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:21 am | Reply
    • G Hugh

      The USA is still the worlds strongest economy, much like the UK before WW2. China is growing, very strong economy, like the USA before WW2.

      Before WW2 Great Britain was the worlds richest country, and spent all of its wealth (and lost its empire) during the war. The United States an upcoming great power did not get involved in the war for two years, preferring to sell arms to the UK, in order to make money. In fact it took a direct assault an US sovereign territory to provoke the nation to fight, rather than turn a profit. Asking China to get involved is ridiculous, if the USA is allowed to profit from a war (a slightly more important one in terms of human rights and world peace), why not China?
      After WW2 The United States was the only major participant to have made a profit, largely by sitting on the side and letting British, Soviet, and free European soldiers do the fighting.
      These days the USA posses the worlds largest armed forces and strongest national economy, like the British Empire before WW2, why cant the USA make a stand and fight against Libya, like Britain against The third Reich, after all, Libya isn't as powerful a country as Nazi Germany was is it?
      Or is the US government still afraid to fight the bad guys?

      March 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
      • e

        Now that's just BS. We saved your a$$es from getting kicked by the Nazis. No matter how long it took us to get into the war, its obvious that we were the ones who helped the most to end it.

        March 10, 2011 at 9:13 am |
      • george

        Best solution is to send multinational peace keeping troups after permanent cease fire.
        China,Russia,India,Germany and others will support it.
        But UK,France & USA want to see blood in Libya like allied forces killed thousands of civilians by areial bombardments!
        Civilized world should not allow this to happen again in any country.
        Gadhafi is Dictator but he is better than Islamic Fundamentalists.
        World can foce Gadhafi to go for democratic reforms which they have signalled to do in the future.
        Majority Libyan people like to see Gadhafi become prodemocratic than to power is transfer to Islamic Fundamentalists!
        So it is complex issue.

        March 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  4. Ken

    The British SAS was conducting "special operations" in Basra, Iraq a few years ago. They dressed up as Arabs and were shooting at a police station. They got arrested for doing this and then the British sent in tanks to "rescue" them from jail. I wonder what sort of hijinks they had planned for Libya?

    March 8, 2011 at 10:42 am | Reply
    • Norm

      It’s really great that people are sharing this inmforation.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • xeladom

      93W09p btevgihkwcgc

      July 18, 2011 at 5:06 am | Reply
  5. David King

    Protesters, if you want Obama's change & America's freedoms sing 'OBAMA FOR THE WORLD'!

    Obama is a light, Obama is so right, For America, For The World!
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/obama-for-the-world/id382415281?uo=4

    March 9, 2011 at 12:06 am | Reply
  6. Fred Smith

    Hey, CNN, pay a few dollars for real editors, will you? Does your house sit on a "floudation?" Are you sticking to "fludamental principals?"

    A "flouder" is a fish. Unless you meant to say the SAS team was flopping around like a fish, the verb you want is "founder," is in, "the leaking ship foundered on the rocks." Derived from the Latin "fundus," bottom - as in, where a ship (or covert team) goes when it founders.

    March 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • e

      Actually, the fish's name is spelled "flounder".

      March 10, 2011 at 9:14 am | Reply
  7. Chaz

    floun·der1    
    [floun-der] Show IPA
    –verb (used without object)
    1.
    to struggle with stumbling or plunging movements (usually followed by about, along, on, through,  etc.): He saw the child floundering about in the water.
    2.
    to struggle clumsily or helplessly: He floundered helplessly on the first day of his new job.

    Please at least look up definitions before you post your incorrect thoughts on word usage.

    March 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  8. Emmanel

    Hahaha, The game has just started. Libyan people think twice. This guys never care about your life s, they are after your crude. To get control of OPEC

    March 22, 2011 at 3:36 am | Reply

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