British Special Forces & The Fall Of Tripoli
With Tripoli now in the hands of the rebels, reports are coming in that are fleshing out the role of British special forces in the operation to take the city.
There are thought to be less than 50 United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) operatives inside Libya, with around 30 soldiers from the 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS), a detachment from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) along with associated support elements. MI6 operatives are also said to be on the ground and working closely with UKSF.
While there are no reports that UKSF were involved in actual fighting in the city, it has been reported that their expertise assisted an audacious plan by rebel commanders to oust Gaddafi from the capital.
Months ago, several hundred anti-Gaddafi volunteers quietly left their homes in Tripoli and travelled to the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata where they were trained in insurgency techniques by special forces troops from Britain, France, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The fledging rebel insurgents were also supplied with body armour, night vision goggles and communications equipment.
While the rebel volunteers were being trained, supplies of ammunition and communications gear were being smuggled into secret caches within Tripoli for later use.
SAS and MI6 operatives advised the rebel commanders as they planned the Tripoli operation. Aside from tactical advice, the British would have passed on vital intelligence on the disposition of pro-Gaddafi forces in and around Tripoli.
Once fully trained, around 200 rebels infiltrated back into Tripoli and surrounding areas to wait for the order to rise up.
On the 20th of August, NATO air strikes began softening up targets in and around Tripoli. Command and control facilities were hit in order to weaken the Gaddafi regime's ability to quash the coming uprising. Previous to these strikes, UKSF operatives had infiltrated into the city and placed radio transmitters on select targets. Once activated, these beacons allowed the incoming NATO warplanes to more accurately find and hit their targets, hence minimising civilian casualties.
On the evening of the 20th, the signal to begin the insurrection was given by a coded message in a speech by Mustafa Abdal Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council broadcast via Qatar-based Libya TV - "You have to rise to the event". At 8pm that evening, a group of rebels took over a mosque in Tripoli city center and used its loud speakers to call on others to join the uprising. Other rebel sleeper cells attacked key targets throughout Tripoli.
As insurgents became active inside the city, rebels from Misrata entered Tripoli from the east. Many of these troops had been trained by SAS and British Army officers at a base near Misrata's port. Foreign special forces, including the SAS, provided the rebels with real time intelligence beamed down from surveillance aircraft which circled high above Tripoli. As had happened elsewhere during the conflict, UKSF forces on the ground coordinated with NATO attack aircraft to provide close air support for the rebel advance.
More rebels, trained and armed by the British SAS and French special forces and led by Qatari special forces, came into Tripoli from the west, having previously taken the town of Zawiya.
As the uprising in Tripoli began to overwhelm the Gaddafi loyalists, UKSF began to provide the rebels with assistance in hunting down Gaddafi himself, who was rumored to be holed up somewhere in the city. Members of 22 SAS and the SRR reportedly carried out surveillance operations in an attempt to unearth Gaddafi's location.
The Mirror reports that 'SAS signallers' - likely a reference to operators with 18(UKSF) Signals Regiment - have been tracking and eavesdropping on loyalist radio / mobile phone transmissions in hopes of pinpointing Gaddafi's hiding place. The Daily Record further reports on a number of ongoing UKSF SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) operations in Tripoli and elsewhere.
While mopping up in Tripoli continues, it has also been reported that SAS advisors have been assisting a push by rebels towards Gaddafi's home city of Sirte, where it is expected that loyalist forces will make their final stand. As in earlier actions in the campaign, it is thought that a small group of SAS and MI6 advisors are travelling with the rebel forces.
more info, further reading:
- How the special forces helped bring Gaddafi to his knees
- Libya: SAS teams tracked "voice signatures" of Colonel Gaddafi's henchmen to help rebels take Tripoli
- SAS on the trail of fugitive tyrant Colonel Gaddafi
(the daily record - includes details of UKSF Signals eavesdropping/tracking)
- Gaddafi's end … and Libya's new beginning
(the guardian - mentions UKSF training of rebels in the west and east)
- Special report: The secret plan to take Tripoli