Libyan rebels should receive training funded by Arab countries, says Britain
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 April 2011
Britain is to urge Arab countries to train the disorganised Libyan rebels, and so strengthen their position on the battlefield before negotiations on a ceasefire, senior British defence sources have indicated.
The sources said they were also looking at hiring private security companies, some of which draw on former SAS members, to aid the rebels. These private soldiers could be paid by Arab countries to train the unstructured rebel army.
In what is seen in effect as the second phase of the battle to oust Muammar Gaddafi, it is now being acknowledged that the disorganised Libyan rebels are not going to make headway on their own. Nato member countries are looking at requesting Arab countries, such as Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, to train the rebels, or to fund the training. Qatar and the UAE are already involved in the Nato-led no-fly zone.
Some cabinet sources said that another Arab country that might be willing to train the rebels is Jordan. They are thought to have the best-trained officers, and are possibly the best army in the region, one Cabinet source said. The training of the Libyan rebels might take as long as month to turn them into an effective force capable of holding ground, and organise flanking manoeuvres. A source said: "They're not advancing, they're just driving up the road, and when they see guns drawn they turn round and go back again."
The British decision to find ways to train and equip the rebels is a further sign of the determination of the coalition administration to drive out Gaddafi. It is argued that the training, if requested by the rebels, would not be in breach of the UN resolution as it would be covered by the mandate allowing "all means necessary" to protect the civilians from attacks by Gaddafi.
With the Libyan rebels angered at what they regard as the reluctance of Nato to adopt a more aggressive bombing campaign, British sources insist the war simply cannot be won from the air and British troops will not be used on the ground.
In recent days they have been trained to dig slit trenches to create simple defensive perimeters. There is a frustration that the rebels advance 20 miles up the road, and then retreat as soon as they face Libyan government firepower. One aim is to help them launch outflanking manoeuvres leapfrogging up the coastal towns.
It is being argued that there is a parallel with the Northern Alliance's toppling of the Taliban in 2001 when there was open US air assistance, Northern Alliance activity on the ground, and CIA-backed special forces providing logistics support.
Britain and the US have both said in the last week that they believe it is legal to arm the rebels under the terms of the UN resolution, but it is claimed that arming the rebels if they are not properly trained has drawbacks.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, announced on Monday that the government's national security council had agreed to meet the urgent need of the interim transitional national council in Benghazi for telecommunications equipment. Some of that equipment will allow the rebels to communicate with one another without being intercepted by Gaddafi.
The rebel military's chief of staff, Abdel-Fattah Younis, complained yesterday that Nato's bureaucratic procedures mean that it can take eight hours for the alliance to respond to a request for air support. He said that Nato could have lifted the siege of the western Libyan city of Misrata weeks ago if it had wanted to. "The people will die and this crime will be on the face of the international community for ever. What is Nato doing?" he said.
Nato spokeswoman Carmen Romero dismissed the criticism, saying the number of air strikes is increasing every day while Misrata remains a priority of the air campaign.
She said the alliance flew 137 missions on Monday, 186 on Tuesday, and had planned 198 for Wednesday.
The MoD said last night: "We have not decided to arm or train the opposition forces, although as the prime minister has said our view is that the UN resolution does not necessarily rule out the provision of assistance in certain circumstances."