Sunday, March 06, 2011

Basra to Benghazi, does anybody trust Brits' 'diplomacy'?

THE Army nicknamed them 'Hereford Hooligans', but Britain's elite special forces the SAS seems to have acquired a new soubriquet with Tory Defence secretary Liam Fox confirming that what he called a "small diplomatic team" was in Benghazi, to talk to Libyan rebels.

They should have that opportunity now. Fox refused to confirm reports that any British nationals had been detained, but he was speaking after the Sunday Times reported that an SAS unit was being held by rebel forces. The Guardian says that according to its sources, "a suspected British intelligence and special forces unit, which parachuted in about four days ago, was caught near the town of Khandra, about 30km west of Benghazi.

"A senior member of Benghazi's revolutionary council said: 'They were carrying espionage equipment, reconnaissance equipment, multiple passports and weapons. This is no way to conduct yourself during an uprising. Gaddafi is bringing in thousands of mercenaries to kill us, most are using foreign passports and how do we know who these people are? They say they're British nationals and some of the passports they have are British. But the Israelis used British passports to kill that man in Dubai last year.'

That is not the only reason to distrust the presence of UK special forces. No one should forget the incident in southern Iraq when a British unit dressed up to look like Arabs were caught near a Shi'ite holy place before a pilgrimage festival, with a carload of explosives and detonators. This was supposed to be a surveillance mission, hence the disguise. And explosives and detonators? We shall never know, because the Army staged a desperate assault on the jail were they were held, to free them and other prisoners, before any questions were answered.

In Libya it was reported that the SAS were going in with Hercules C130 aircraft to 'rescue' stranded British oilmen. It turned out the majority of those flown out to Malta were not British. But more to the point, what about those flown in?

Here's Christopher Leake in the Daily Mail (February 27):

"SAS has staged a dramatic evacuation of 150 civilian workers from the Libyan desert. The Special Forces soldiers landed in two C130 Hercules military transport aircraft on a landing strip near remote oilfields south of the eastern port of Benghazi. The SAS men – known as ‘blades’ because of their role at the sharp end of the mission – had flown from Malta’s Valletta airport, where, in meticulous detail, they planned the rescue of the stranded workers, many of them British".

'Crack team of commandos snatch terrified Britons from desert nightmare' was how the Mail headline writers put it, though the accompanying photographs showed half a dozen cheerful-looking, well-nourished Brits posing for a team-shot, and men calmly wheeling smart luggage on to a plane.

Nothing wrong with that, and it was good to see people got away home safely. But was it necessary to send in the SAS? And had they really flown in as described, to help with the men's luggage perhaps? The Mail itself proceeds to slightly modify its story:

"A senior source confirmed that an advance party of SAS men had been in Libya for several days before, rounding up the oil workers from several locations in a desert four-and-a-half times the size of Britain.
The SAS party had sneaked into Libya in plain clothes on commercial flights on Tuesday.
They then reported to the British Embassy and picked up weapons being kept there after they had been flown in earlier in a ‘red box’, or diplomatic bag".

No need to pause too long wondering what HM Government, and even more the Daily Mail , might say if an arms cache was to be uncovered at the Libyan embassy in London.

Anyway, as Christopher Leake went on to report, "Although the SAS troops were heavily armed with assault rifles, machine guns and shotguns, it is understood they met no resistance." Just as well that they didn't, or the oil workers they were supposed to rescuing might have been caught up in a firefight none of their making.

Leake said 50 SAS were remaining in Libya.

According to other reports, the SAS men had landed on the coast and proceeded overland to secure the airstrips before the Hercules planes landed.

Some diplomatic mission! But according to the rebels whom the Guardian spoke with the captured men were being well-treated. So there should be no need for yet another dramatic 'rescue' to bring them out. Fox has refused to give any more details on the "diplomatic team"'s mission in the eastern area of Libya. "We are in touch with them but I'm not going to be giving further comment on that."

The Sunday Times reports Libyan and British sources confirming the SAS unit was detained by rebel forces it had approached to secure a meeting with a junior diplomat to offer help in their fight against Gaddafi. The mission backfired when rebel leaders in Benghazi objected to foreign interference from governments which had not yet formally recognised them as Libya's legitimate rulers, it said. Spokesmen for the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office refused to confirm or deny the report.

And now here's news of what has been happening in another country where British and US forces were sent in, among other things, to help free the people from a tyrannical regime.

Giant protests defy police intimidation

Giant protests defy police intimidation

Tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens defied heavy-handed police and security checkpoints to rally in Baghdad and across the occupied country today, demanding: "Oil for the people, not for the thieves."

It was the second Friday in a row of mass protests - last week at least 18 people were killed and and 140 wounded in the government's crackdown on the "Day of Rage."

Today's rallies were billed as a "Day of Regret," to mark one year since parliamentary elections. The government's imposition of a vehicle ban in the capital forced many protesters to walk miles to take part. (Not unlike what the Metropolitan Police are imposing on trades unionists and other cuts protesters coming to London on March 26!)

It took politicians more than nine months to form a government after the March 7 2010 poll and even now several key positions such as the ministers for the interior, defence and planning remain unfilled.

Many Iraqis contend that PM Nouri al Maliki's administration serves particular ethnic and religious groups rather than national unity, pointing to the dire state of public services in the oil-rich country, eight years after US-led forces invaded.

"People will continue demonstrating until there is reform because the government has been built on a sectarian basis," said Faisal Hamid, a senior citizen who walked to Tahrir Square from the nearby neighbourhood of Karrada.

"Officials only look to their personal interests."

Bahjat Talib, who walked through eight checkpoints to get to the central square, said he had had to tell security forces he was going to work or they would not have let him pass.

"Our country is lost and for the last eight years the government has failed to offer services for people - thousands of youths are without jobs," Mr Talib said.

Raising his voice to be heard above the chanting Finance Ministry employee Ammar Ziad said: "We are not Ba'athists, we are just Iraqis asking for simple rights like services."

Baghdad Mayor Saber Issawi resigned on Thursday.

Mr Ziad was referring to the government's claim that the protests were organised by al-Qaida and members of the country's former ruling party.

Protests also took place in at least 10 cities across Iraq today.

In Basra thousands of demonstrators were charged by soldiers and police after refusing to halt a protest.


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