SAS soldiers and members of the British intelligence unit MI6 were escorting British diplomats into eastern Libya to build connections with Libyan opposition leaders, The Guardian reports. They were dropped by helicopter outside Benghazi and were reportedly detained Thursday by rebel commanders who suspected them of being mercenaries because of the reconnaissance and military equipment they carried.
Last week I authorised the dispatch of a small diplomatic team to Eastern Libya in uncertain circumstances which we judged required their protection to build on these initial contacts [with the Libyan opposition] and to assess the scope for closer diplomatic dialogue. I pay tribute to that team. They were withdrawn yesterday after a serious misunderstanding about their role leading to temporary detention. This situation was resolved and they were able to meet [an opposition leader]. However it was clearly better for this team to be withdrawn.
Rebel forces have asked why the SAS/MI6 group came in so secretively if they were an official group tasked with guiding diplomats to the opposition. “If this is an official delegation, why did they come with a helicopter? Why didn’t they [inform the revolutionary council] …?” asked Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition, according to the Guardian.