Monday 6 June 2011

SAS soldiers are acting as spotters in Libya to help NATO warplanes

WESTERN special forces appear to have been filmed on the front line in Libya, in what al-Jazeera TV said was ''evidence for the first time of allied boots on the ground''.

A group of six Westerners are clearly visible in the report by al-Jazeera from Dafniya, described as the westernmost point of the rebel lines west of the town of Misrata. Five of them are armed and wear informal sand-coloured clothes, peaked caps and cotton Arab scarves.

The sixth, apparently the most senior, carries no visible weapon and wears a pink, short-sleeved shirt. It is possible he is an intelligence officer. The group is seen talking to rebels and then quickly leaving on being spotted.

The reporter, Tony Birtley, a veteran war correspondent, said: ''Here a group of armed foreigners, possibly British, are seen liaising with the fighters. It could be to facilitate forthcoming helicopter attacks.''

There have been British media reports that SAS soldiers are acting as spotters in Libya to help NATO warplanes target Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces. In March, six special forces soldiers and two MI6 officers were detained by rebel fighters when they landed on an abortive mission to meet rebel leaders in Benghazi. The group were withdrawn soon after and a new ''liaison team'' was sent in their place.

The revelations came as as eight Libyan army officers appeared in Rome, saying they were part of a group of as many as 120 military officials and soldiers who had defected in recent days.

The officers - five generals, two colonels and a major - told a news conference that they had defected in protest at Colonel Gaddafi's actions against his own people, citing killings of civilians and violence against women. They claimed the Libyan campaign against the rebels was weakening rapidly.