A British special forces team tasked with escorting a diplomat to Libyan rebels was captured last week, The Telegraph reports. The group was released unharmed and has since left Libya.
Seven Special Air Service (SAS) commandos and one MI6 intelligence agent touched down in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi early Friday morning. They were greeted with warning shots from the local militia and quickly became surrounded.
At first, the British tried to bluff their way into the country and reported that they had entered unarmed. The militia, noticing their weapons, then moved in to arrest the commandos.
Their secret mission compromised, the soldiers laid down their weapons and surrendered, prompting British ambassador Richard Northern to try to negotiate their release.
“I understand there has been a misunderstanding and they have been picked up by security groups who are concerned about their presence and who they are,” Northern said in a tape played by Libyan state TV. He then asked Gaddafi justice minister turned rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil to “intervene and clear up this misunderstanding.” According to Northern, the group was simply a small advance party of British officials there to assess the humanitarian situation in the country and look for suitable hotels for future visits.
Although Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has strongly criticized Gaddafi, the rebels said their confusion stemmed from the commando’s way of entering the country via helicopter under cover of darkness. “If this is an official delegation, why come with helicopters?” one rebel told the paper. “Why not say ‘we are coming, permission to land at the airport?’ There are rules for these things.”
Another prominent rebel spokesman reiterated the point: “Nobody here was informed of their arrival; it has all been rather peculiar and we don’t understand why they turned up like this.”
The British soldiers were reportedly treated well by their captors before being released on Sunday and placed aboard a British ship, but Cameron’s government is under fire for allowing the botched mission to take place. “These (commandos) are the best and it appears that terrible gaps were left in the planning,” one former SAS soldier told The Daily Mirror. “It seems to have been a rush job, they were under pressure to get the job done. It couldn’t have been well-planned. Even though it was low-key, there was clearly no backup. The blame lies with the government.”