By Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight
British efforts to help topple Colonel Gaddafi were not limited to air strikes. On the ground – and on the quiet – special forces soldiers were blending in with rebel fighters. This is the previously untold account of the crucial part they played.
The British campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi’s regime had its public face – with aircraft dropping bombs, or Royal Navy ships appearing in Libyan waters, but it also had a secret aspect.
My investigations into that covert effort reveal a story of practically minded people trying to get on with the job, while all the time facing political and legal constraints imposed from London.
In the end, though, British special forces were deployed on the ground in order to help the UK’s allies – the Libyan revolutionaries often called the National Transitional Council or NTC. Those with a knowledge of the programme insist “they did a tremendous job” and contributed to the final collapse of the Gaddafi regime.
The UK’s policy for intervention evolved in a series of fits and starts, being changed at key points by events on the ground. The arguments about how far the UK should go were thrashed out in a series of meetings of the National Security Council at Downing Street. Under the chairmanship of Prime Minister David Cameron, its key members were:
- Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards
- Defence Secretary Liam Fox
- Foreign Secretary William Hague
Mr Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, was a key voice in urging action following start of the Libyan revolution last February, say Whitehall insiders.