The Libyan Enigma – SAS Troops Involved Before UN Resolution

August 23, 2011

Outflanking the lame National Transitional Council and its forces in Benghazi, the Berbers of Libya’s western mountains have fought and won a series of victories, taking them into Tripoli, where they are fighting with what remains of Muammar Qaddafi’s troops.

So the Libyan “revolution” enters another stage, as the various opponents of Qaddafi ready to fight it out between themselves and their various constituencies, and their foreign benefactors prepare to offer sage advice and guidance. The odious autocrat is almost vanquished, notwithstanding the longevity of his son Saad, who popped back into the open last night after supposedly being arrested. A triumph for liberal interventionism and a sign of a warm western embrace for real democracy in the  Middle East?

Well, on that score our temptations to celebrate should be doused by the approbation shown for Libya’s rulers-in-waiting by Bahrain’s royal family and the training provided for Berber guerrillas by Qatari forces. There will remain “good” and “bad” autocracies, while a shield will be placed firmly around the aspirations of peoples in the region by the realpolitikal imperatives shared by the Americans, European nations and native elites be they “transitional” democratic as in Egypt and Libya, perhaps, or authentically undemocratic as in Bahrain.

That’s not particularly controversial. The wildcard element is the reaction of those peoples. Will they allow themselves to be limited and disciplined, as  seems to be occurring in Egypt and Tunisia? Optimists would be point to public participation in Libya’s “revolution.” But this was not a popular uprising in a direct sense. As Pepe Escobar describes for the Asia Times, the precise occasion for the fall of Tripoli coincided with Operation Siren, launched by NATO and involving Libyan units specially trained for the task.

As Escobar puts it, “NATO’s solution was to build a mercenary army – including all sorts of unsavory types, from former Colombian death squad members to recruiters from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who pinched scores of unemployed Tunisians and tribals disgruntled with Tripoli.” When the Ramadan fast was lifted, these hordes descended upon Tripoli, unleashing the present carnage. An unknown number of people, soldiers and civilians alike, have been killed by NATO bombardment during Operation Siren. We do not know how many. We don’t do body counts, of course, and the media are unconcerned, given the general euphoria of “revolution” but the casualties are likely to be many, and horrendous.

So despite the obvious hatred among many for the Qaddafi clan, events in Tripoli are not likely to generate a broad based popular movement. Instead, the military operation lays the seeds of resentment, as in Mogadishu, where the “transitional” government has never lived down killing thousands of people in its CIA-backed bid to get rid of the “Islamic courts” movement. And the rather rag-tag nature of the troops involved, so obviously dependent upon death from above, and not popular adulation or vast competence, will hardly inspire the people of the capital – Libya’s greatest urban centre by far.

So the “revolution” is a strange one. The displacement of Qaddafi, so real and not to be decried, nevertheless is accompanied by an unavoidable cynicism and fear for the people of Libya. This was no heroic uprising. It was from the start a western-driven para-military operation, cloaked in the garments of humanitarian intervention, and the elements involved in planning and executing it will not recede to permit the riotous reality of actually existing democracy.

It may emerge from the wellsprings of revisionism as time goes by, but soon enough we will see the reality of this Libyan war. The Guardian provides a hint in an article recounting the role played by the SAS, but we will need more to be sure.

Richard Norton-Taylor, conduit to the intelligence world, reports that “a number of serving British special forces soldiers, as well as former SAS troopers, are advising and training rebel forces, although their presence is officially denied.”

We do not know how influential British know-how was in facilitating the descent upon Tripoli. What Norton-Taylor does tell us, however, is potentially explosive, for he reports that SAS soldiers “returned to Libya in February this year, even before the UN mandate urging states to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces.”

British Special Forces were active in Libya before the UN had  passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian action to defend the people of Benghazi and other cities in revolt. This everyday violation of international law, unremarkable these days, hints at a darker narrative, one which is culminating in Tripoli as we speak.


One Response to “The Libyan Enigma – SAS Troops Involved Before UN Resolution”

  1. Don Urquhart Says:

    How come I don’t see this on the BBC?

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