August 26, 2011 “SMH” – -LONDON: British special forces are on the ground in Libya helping to lead the hunt for Muammar Gaddafi.
As a $1.6 million bounty was placed on his head, soldiers from 22 SAS Regiment began guiding rebel soldiers after being ordered in by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
For the first time, defence sources have confirmed the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks, and played a key role in co-ordinating the battle for Tripoli.
Hardened fighters streamed into Tripoli yesterday as Libya’s rebels sought to deliver a knockout punch to Gaddafi’s diehards and to flush out the elusive strongman, dead or alive.
Rebel commanders said they were also preparing fresh attempts to advance against Gaddafi’s forces in his home town, Sirte, 360 kilometres east of Tripoli, and to break a siege of Zuwarah, a town to the west.
Seasoned combatants from the city of Misrata led the army of reinforcements into Tripoli. Their fellow fighters spearheaded the weekend assault that saw the Libyan capital swiftly overrun and Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound captured by Tuesday.
With most of the capital in rebel hands, the SAS soldiers, who have been dressed in Arab civilian clothes and carrying the same weapons as the rebels, have been ordered to switch their focus to the search for Gaddafi.
Libya’s National Transitional Council has promised an amnesty to any of his inner circle prepared to betray his whereabouts.
Rumours about Gaddafi’s whereabouts are flying around Tripoli: he’s holed up in a network of tunnels linking the Rixos Hotel, his Bab al-Aziziya compound and the sea; he’s at his farm near the international airport; he’s hiding among the animals at the Tripoli zoo, which is in a park that lies between the compound and the hotel, an area still under loyalist control.
Rebel commanders said they assume Gaddafi is still in the capital, most likely in one of the last few enclaves where his supporters are putting up fierce resistance, including the staunchly pro-Gaddafi neighbourhood of Abu Salim and the adjoining neighbourhood of Hadba.
”It’s the million-dollar question,” said the rebel organiser Abdel Azouz, who said he thinks Gaddafi is in Abu Salim, given the ferocity of the resistance there.
”We’re looking for him, and don’t worry, we’ll find him.”
With pro-Gaddafi forces resisting in Tripoli and in loyalist towns, including Sirte, the transitional council and its NATO allies made urgent appeals for the swift capture of the former leader and his family.
NATO has ordered all available surveillance aircraft, including British spy planes, to focus on tracking Gaddafi.
The jubilation that followed Tuesday’s rout of his headquarters in Bab al-Aziziya has given way to the reality of a guerilla battle for the suburbs of Tripoli that are still held by the despot’s supporters.
While rebel fighters used Gaddafi’s compound as their new base, helping themselves to weapons left behind by his retreating soldiers, the loyalists took up positions in a wildlife park nearby and fired rockets and mortars into the compound.
With snipers trying to kill anyone using the ports and airports, aid agencies have been unable to deliver supplies of medicines, food or water, and hospitals in Tripoli have been overwhelmed with casualties.
Telegraph, London; Washington Post; Agence France-Presse