Adding to the question of a Western presence in Libya this morning are several reports that surfaced over the weekend claiming that: U.S. AWACS jets are crisscrossing the skies above Libya requesting details on Libyan flight patterns from Maltese air traffic controllers; a British SAS team escorting a U.K. “diplomat” en-route to meet with rebels was briefly taken prisoner by those rebels and another report citing British officials as saying a no-fly zone is in “the earliest phases of planning.”
In an article claiming the U.S. is looking to funnel weapons to the rebels via Saudi Arabia (such a move would officially keep U.S. hands clean and give rebels the ability to create their own no-fly zone) Britain’s The Guardian newspaper had this to say about the AWACS:
For several days now, US Awacs surveillance aircraft have been flying around Libya, making constant contact with Malta air traffic control and requesting details of Libyan flight patterns, including journeys made in the past 48 hours by Gaddafi’s private jet which flew to Jordan and back to Libya just before the weekend.
Officially, Nato will only describe the presence of American Awacs planes as part of its post-9/11 Operation Active Endeavour, which has broad reach to undertake aerial counter-terrorism measures in the Middle East region.
The data from the Awacs is streamed to all Nato countries under the mission’s existing mandate. Now that Gaddafi has been reinstated as a super-terrorist in the West’s lexicon, however, the Nato mission can easily be used to search for targets of opportunity in Libya if active military operations are undertaken.
Al Jazeera English television channel last night broadcast recordings made by American aircraft to Maltese air traffic control, requesting information about Libyan flights, especially that of Gaddafi’s jet.
An American Awacs aircraft, tail number LX-N90442 could be heard contacting the Malta control tower on Saturday for information about a Libyan Dassault-Falcon 900 jet 5A-DCN on its way from Amman to Mitiga, Gaddafi’s own VIP airport.
Nato Awacs 07 is heard to say: “Do you have information on an aircraft with the Squawk 2017 position about 85 miles east of our [sic]?”
Malta air traffic control replies: “Seven, that sounds to be Falcon 900- at flight level 340, with a destination Mitiga, according to flight plan.”
And here’s an interesting excerpt from The New York Times about those captured SAS troops:
Eight British Special Forces soldiers were briefly taken captive by Libyan rebel forces in the east of the country, according to British news reports on Sunday.
The soldiers, from the elite Special Air Service, had been part of a team escorting a British diplomat to meet with Libyan rebels, according to The Sunday Times of London, which first reported on the incident. The newspaper cited anonymous Libyan and British sources and said the men had been held at a military base over the weekend.
Further reports later Sunday suggested that the eight men had been released and were aboard the Cumberland, a Royal Navy ship off the coast of Libya.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, confirmed in a statement that “a small British diplomatic team” in Benghazi, a rebel-held city in eastern Libya, tried to “initiate contacts with the opposition” but “experienced difficulties, which have now been satisfactorily resolved.”
All this makes it look like the west has quietly begun to help the rebels one way or another. Just last week there were unconfirmed reports of western ground troops in the country. It was reported they were there to look into what it would take to set up a no-fly zone.
Oh, and then there’s this interesting bit of info from the AP:
The international community appeared to be struggling to put muscle behind its demands for Gaddafi to give up power. Britain said one of the most talked about ideas for intervention — the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya — is still in an early stage of planning and ruled out the use of ground forces.
An early stage of planning? That could mean a number of things, from actual plans to implement a no-fly zone to simple considerations of one. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.