British special forces have been evacuating British citizens from Libya over the last few days. The Daily Telegraph tells us that "Special forces swoop on Libya to pull Britons to safety" and describes it as a "daring rescue operation." which was carried out in broad daylight. The Guardian reports that a pilot of one of the Hercules aircraft used in the rescue mission "had a narrow escape when small arms fire entered the cockpit and bounced off his helmet" and The Daily Mail helpfully tells us that the Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers involved were known as 'blades' "because of their role at the sharp end of the mission"
This is not the first time that the SAS has been in action in Libya, the regiment fought in Tobruk and Benghazi during the second world war. More recently however the SAS has been training Libyan troops. On the 11th September 2009 The Daily Telegraph reported that "For the past six months Britain’s elite troops have been schooling soldiers working for Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime". The report says that the training may be connected to the release of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing and the aim is to "promote Britain’s commercial interests, particularly energy, in Libya."
The report also says that " Sources within the SAS have expressed distaste at the agreement" as the Gaddafi regime had provided the Irish Republican Army (IRA) with "Semtex explosive, machine-guns and anti-aircraft missiles used against British troops during the Troubles in Northern Ireland."
However it seems that none of the SAS soldiers 'expressed distaste' at the at the fact they were helping a dictator maintain his grip on power and that Gaddafi may, in the future, have used these British trained soldiers against his own people. (I hope the SAS trainers have been watching TV these last few weeks.)
In fact it's worth noting that the Daily Telegraph article makes not one mention of the fact that Gaddafi is a dictator and that Libya has a terrible human rights record. According to the article the only thing he did wrong was that he supported the IRA and was involved in the blowing up of a Pan-Am jet over Lockerbie – the terrorism and oppression against the Libyan people does not get mentioned at all.
It is not only military training that Britain has been suppling to Libya also in September 2009 The Guardian reports "Senior Libyan officials are to attend the Defence Equipment and Systems International conference, the world's largest arms fair, which starts on Tuesday……. The UK approved licences for £12m worth of arms equipment to go to Libya in 2008, but licences for more than £9m of goods were approved in the first three months of this year ." One month later British arms dealers were due to visit the Libyan Aviation Exhibition, a major arms fair in Tripoli. All of this had the blessing of the then Business Secretary Lord Mandelson who said the arms industry should focus on markets "where opportunities exist"
In 2009 the British government issued licences for the sale of £21.7 million worth of military equipment to Libya including "small arms, ammunition, ordinance, aviation components, armoured and protective equipment and military electronics." The government did stop a British company "shipping 130,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to Libya in 2008" but only because they feared the arms would be passed to warlords in Sudan.
According to Campaign Against the Arms Trade (who campaign against the international arms trade) the UK has made 'high level political interventions' in support of arms sales to Libya and that in the third quarter of 2010, equipment approved for export included small arms ammunition, tear gas and sniper rifles. Ammunition comprised £3.2m of the £4.7m million of military items licensed and no requests for licences were refused in 2010. Libyan officials attended UK arms fairs; Defence and Security Equipment International in 2009 and the Farnborough Airshow in 2010, Britain also had the largest pavilion at Libya's arms fair LibDex in 2010.
However Britain it seems is changing sides, after a speech by primeminister David Cameron it's reported that "British government would consider arming the opposition, following violence meted out against protesters."