Monday, October 10, 2011
How Special Forces Helped Revolution in Libya
How the special forces helped bring Gaddafi to his knees
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
8:45AM BST 28 Aug 2011
British combat jets pounded Libyan forces in a series of strikes over the weekend targeting command and control bunkers and missile sites.
The attacks took place on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, a few miles north east of the international airport, where a brigade headquarters and a helicopter facility was based.
The targets were destroyed with Paveway IV satellite guided bombs prior to a secondary attack on a BM21 Grad rocket launcher west of the port of Ras Lanuf, which had been earlier spotted by a Nato reconnaissance patrol.
The mobile rocket launchers, which had been used to target civilians and attack rebel forces, were destroyed an RAF Tornado armed with Brimstone missiles.
The attacks came at the end of a week in which British special forces played a pivotal role in helping the Libyan rebel army take control of Tripoli after several days of intense fighting.
The battle for Tripoli - codename Operation Mermaid Dawn - began eight days ago, shortly after Iftar, the breaking of the Ramadan fast for the evening meal, by a pre-arranged message from the headquarters of the rebel army.
Minutes later automatic gun fire echoed around the Libyan capitol amid chants of Allahu akbar - God is Great - as hundreds of heavily armed anti-Gaddafi fighters, who had patiently waited for the appointed time, took to the streets.
Rebel commanders knew that Gaddafi would not give up Tripoli without a fight but if the city was to be taken without a blood bath a cunning plan would be required.
Planning for Mermaid Dawn - Mermaid is the Libyan nickname for Tripoli - began three months earlier when groups of young male volunteers left their homes in Tripoli and travelled to Benghazi to learn the art of insurgent warfare from an international force of covert units composed of the British SAS and MI6 agents and troops from the French, Qatar and United Arab Emirates special forces.
As well as training the rebels, the British government also covertly supplied 1,000 sets of body armour, advanced telecommunications equipment and night vision goggles.
For weeks on end the Libyan volunteers were taught weapon training, street fighting and sabotage in a series of disused compounds across the city. While the rebels trained, hundreds of weapons, tons of ammunition and communications equipment were smuggled into Tripoli and hidden in secret arms dumps.
The plan for capturing the city were drawn up by rebel commanders - they chose the targets and the date and time for the attack while the SAS and MI6 operatives were on hand to offer advice and finesse the operation.
By the middle of August, more than 200 volunteers were trained and primed for action. They then infiltrated back into the capital, disguising themselves as fishermen, or travelling through the western mountains that ringed Tripoli.
"They went back to Tripoli and waited; they became sleeper cells," said Fadlallah Haroun, a rebel military spokesman who helped organize the operation. Other volunteers went back to their homes in the cities west of Tripoli, including Zintan and Zawiya, and waited for the day to come to push into the capital."
So called "shaping attacks" began last Saturday morning when Nato war planes, including those from the RAF began a series of highly coordinated attacks against command and control bunkers, which once destroyed would leave the Libyan dictator unable to respond effectively to the insurrection.
Five precision-guided Paveway IV bombs were dropped on the Baroni Centre, a secret intelligence base under the command of Abdullah Senussi, the brother-in-law of the dictator while other aircraft, including predator drones, attacked troop concentrations, tanks and artillery batteries.
The covert order for the uprising was contained within a speech by Mustafa Abdal Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council broadcast via Qatar-based Libya TV on Saturday evening when he told the citizens of Tripoli "You have to rise to the event". It was the call to arms for which the rebel fighters had been waiting.
By 8pm, a group of rebels took control of the Ben Nabi Mosque close to the city centre. Using loudspeakers normally used for the call to prayer they began to call on anti-Gaddafi supporters to join the uprising.
The timing of the operation caught Gaddafi by surprise. The rebels had spent much of the day mopping up government forces in Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli and Gaddafi's generals probably assumed that the rebels would regroup and rearm before pressing on.
One of the keys to the success of the audacious plan was the ability of the rebels to recruit Mohammed Eshkal, the head of Mohammed Megrayef Brigade - whose battalions were charged with protecting Tripoli's gates.
Although Eshkal was reportedly very close to the Gaddafi regime and one of his commanders, the Army officer harboured a deep seated hatred for the dictator who some 20-years earlier had ordered the death of his cousin.
"Eshkal carried a grudge in his heart against Gaddafi for 20 years, and he made a deal with the NTC, when the zero hour approached he would hand the city over to the rebels," said Haroun.
"Eshkal didn't care much about the revolution. He wanted to take a personal revenge from Gaddafi and when he saw a chance that he will fall, he just let it happen.
"NATO played a very big role in liberating Tripoli, they bombed all the main locations that we couldn't handle with our light weapons," said Harouin.
The secrecy surrounding Operation Mermaid's Dawn was so intense that even senior Whitehall officials were surprised when the news broke last Saturday evening.
Prime Minister David Cameron had to cut short a family holiday in Cornwall to return to London to make a statement on the operation.
"We all knew that something special was going to happen in and around Tripoli but the briefings had suggested that it was due to takes place around mid-September," a source told The Sunday Telegraph.
"But it was brought forward at very short notice and caught everyone in Government by surprise. It has been very successful and the Gaddafi's time is clearly up but it may take some time before the fighting is over."
The following day hundreds more fighters flooded into the city as the RAF and Nato aircraft pounded Gaddafi's forces in 46 separate attacks.
Members of the SAS and other foreign specialist troops were able to supply the rebels with real time intelligence from surveillance aircraft and drones enabling them to maximise their limited fire power.
On the ground the rebels sent out text messages calling for others to rise and by the afternoon the revolt had spread out across 13 suburbs.
Gaddafi took to the air waves to make a series of increasingly desperate appeals for Libyans to defend Tripoli from the rebels "as a matter or life and death" but all to no avail.
The fighting continued through the week and one of the last stronghold in the city Gaddafi's vast and well protected compound was finally overrun.
Late on Monday afternoon, Libya's state broadcaster was off the air and any sense that Gaddafi had any control over Libya had all but vanished.
On Friday the NTC announced that they had managed to install the National Transitional Council in Tripoli. An operation which was expected to last up to two weeks was over in a matter of days.
There have been periods over the past five months, since the start of the Nato mission to enforce the UN backed no fly zone, when the war appeared to have reached a stalemate.
Attacks by Nato jets, mainly led by the RAF and the French air force destroyed vast amounts of Libyan military hardware and communication centres.
The sorties not only protected civilians from attack but also allowed greater freedom of movement for the rebel forces but despite this advantage many of the advances ended in a tactical reverse.
Operation Ellamy, the British contribution to the Nato mission, began on 19th March when HMS Triumph, a Trafalgar Class submarine, along with elements of the US Navy, fired 110 Tomahawk cruise missile at various targets in Libya.
A move which followed attacks by French aircraft earlier in the day.
Almost immediately RAF Sentry and Sentinel surveillance aircraft took to the sky and began to identify potential targets for Nato aircraft.
Later that same evening RAF Tornados, equipped with Storm Shadow missiles flew from RAF Marham in Norfolk on a 3,000 mission against targets in Libya.
The attacks have continued unabated ever since with RAF combat jets taking part in bombing raids almost every day over the past five months.
France, which, according to one British source, have been more "forward leading" than most of its Nato partners, attempted to break the deadlock with shipments of tons of weapons and ammunition to Berber tribal fighters based in the Nafusa mountains in early June - a move which technically broke the UN arms embargo and led to condemnation by both Russia and China.
There were also moments of tension within the British government, especially over whether Gaddafi himself was a legitimate Nato target.
General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, insisted he was not whereas Liam Fox, the defence secretary suggested that targeting Gaddafi was legally acceptable.
Commanders can now point to the success of the mission so far.
But two challenges remain. Gaddafi is still at large and his loyalists are not defeated everywhere.
And the possibility still looms large of an ugly end-game in which factions of Nato's rebel allies begin to commit atrocities in retaliation for those committed by the retreating Gaddafi Army - something Britain and its allies would be powerless to halt.