Gaddafi “mercenary” claim turns spotlight on role of special forces in Libya

National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters, September 6, 2011

From David Brunnstrom and Giles Elgood,  Reuters:  A boast by Gaddafi loyalists that they had captured 17 foreign mercenaries this week has been greeted with skepticism, but the claim has highlighted the importance of covert military operations in the overthrow of the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim has so far not made good on his promise to put the group on television and he has produced no other evidence to back his story, which was quickly denied in Western capitals.

"The lack of evidence is for the moment what I find most remarkable about the whole story. Where are the boots, where are the watches, not to mention the faces?" said Francis Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

The whole thing may turn out to be no more than a bold piece of disinformation by a spin doctor with nothing to lose. But it still fits in with a compelling narrative surrounding the secret side of Libya’s war. . . .

[S]pecial forces operations appear to have been more productive, involving personnel from Britain, France, Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, according to media reports.

Rebel units in Tripoli were secretly armed so they could rise up and help take the capital, while British agents infiltrated the city to deploy radio equipment to help target NATO air strikes in a way that would avoid civilian casualties.

France sent dozens of military advisers to organize and train the rebels. France also delivered arms to the rebels that had been supplied by Qatar.

Reuters correspondents in the field report having seen apparent evidence of foreign special forces on the ground, although their activities were never made clear. Rebels, whose accounts could not be confirmed, also spoke of assistance from CIA agents. . . .

While details have emerged of what special forces had done earlier in the conflict — assistance with weapons and tactics, acting as forward air controllers for NATO bombers and providing weapons to rebel forces in the Western Mountains — it was not clear what they might be doing now.   (photo: Getty)

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