A [sic] SAS mission to Libya resulted in humiliation after the troops were first captured by rebels, then a diplomat’s plea for their release was broadcast on state television.
The mission was error-strewn from the beginning, when a helicopter carrying the team of seven SAS soldiers and MI6 officer landed in Benghazi without warning the rebel commanders - causing the insurgents to think they were coming under attack.For more on the mission, check out THE TELEGRAPH's follow-up article.
The team then aggravated the situation by claiming to be unarmed - which only made their predicament worse when their weapons were discovered.
A senior British diplomat was on Sunday night unwittingly broadcast on Libyan state television pleading for the release of the group.
The troops and their Special Forces escort were detained by rebel security forces on Friday after arriving in the early hours by helicopter.
The seven SAS soldiers and MI6 officer touched down 20 miles from Benghazi, the eastern city where the rebels have their headquarters. They were taken to a nearby compound where local witnesses said warning shots were fired.
Their unexpected arrival prompted panic among the local militia, only exacerbated by the discovery of weapons, explosives and ammunition accompanying the soldiers. The group was swiftly handcuffed and taken to a military base as British officials frantically tried to secure their release.
...Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the rebels' National Council in Benghazi, said they were detained because of the secretive manner in which they had entered Libya.
The reason they were arrested was that they came into the country unofficially and without any arrangement with the Libyan authorities. Libya is an independent nation, we have our borders [and] we should expect them to be respected by everybody."
The intelligence officer and escort last night left Libya aboard HMS Cumberland. The failed mission and subsequent negotiations has led to a disastrous start for any future co-operation between Britain and the rebel troops.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, is expected to make an urgent statement on Monday to the House of Commons explaining the secretive mission and the events that followed.
In a terse statement last night, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that a "small diplomatic team" had been in Benghazi and "experienced difficulties".
Britain would send more such teams in future, he said.
Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, said that the mission was part of Britain's support for regime change in Libya.