A bizarre incident has revealed that the U.S. special forces are engaged in confronting ISIS in Libya. -- On Monday 20-man special forces team arrived at an airbase in western Libya that is separated only by 10 miles of desert from an ISIS base at Ajaylat, outside the ancient port city of Sabratha. -- They were asked to leave by fighters the London Guardian called "local commanders" but that the Pentagon called "a local militia." -- According to the Pentagon, they were seeking to meet "representatives of the Libyan National Army," evidently no easy task in a country consumed by civil war. -- AFP said they had been "kicked out of Libya." -- But that expression perhaps exaggerated how confrontational the encounter had been. -- A Libyan parliamentarian claimed that the special forces had been "disarmed," but the Libyan air force said on its Facebook page that they "[kept] their equipment with them" when they left. -- In any case, Newsweek reported Friday that "Senior U.S. defense officials told NBC News that the incident did take place and that American forces have been “in and out of Libya” for 'some time now' to advise Libyan forces." -- COMMENT: "What we have here is a failure to communicate," as Cool Hand Luke would have put it, a view encouraged by "one U.S. defense official" who, according to NBC News, "suggested the group was asked to leave because of a lack of communication between the base in Wattiya, where they landed, and the Libyan forces who would normally 'engage' with the American advisers." ...
SECRET U.S. MISSION IN LIBYA REVEALED AFTER AIR FORCE POSTED PICTURES
By Chris Stephen
[PHOTO CAPTION: Photographs showed three Americans armed with assault rifles. Photograph: Libyan Air Force/Facebook.]
A secret U.S. commando mission to Libya has been revealed after photographs of a special forces unit were posted on the Facebook page of the country’s air force.
Libya’s air force said 20 U.S. soldiers arrived at Libya’s Wattiya airbase on Monday, but left soon after local commanders asked them to go because they had no permission to be at the base. It was unclear if another branch of the Libyan military had authorized the mission.
Pentagon sources confirmed to U.S. media that the special forces unit was part of a mission sent this week, but it was unclear if the soldiers had left the country.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Pentagon sources confirmed the presence of a special forces unit. Photograph: Libyan Air Force/Facebook.]
The Facebook post that revealed the unit’s presence said the 20 soldiers had disembarked “in combat readiness wearing bullet proof jackets, advanced weapons.”
The photographs show the Americans -- three with assault rifles slung over their shoulders -- posing in the sunshine with Libyan soldiers. Other photographs show the U.S. troops boarding a blue and white-striped passenger plane and driving a yellow dune buggy.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Soldier with assault rifle. Photograph: Libyan air force/Facebook.]
Wattiya’s proximity to Sabratha, site of the Islamic State’s western Libya base, has heightened speculation that the U.S. is poised to launch strikes on the terror group.
The incident marks the first confirmed deployment of American special forces to Libya since July last year, when Delta Force commandos seized Ahmed Abu Khattala, now on trial in New York accused of the 2012 killing U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
“They were there, [local commanders] said they were on a training mission,” said one source in the nearby mountain town of Zintan. “Nobody knows details. They are gone now.”
Wattiya is one of the largest air bases in Libya, dating from the era of Muammar Gaddafi who was deposed in the 2011 revolution.
Only open desert separates it from the ISIS base at Ajaylat, outside Sabratha, the base that Tunisia says trained Sousse beach gunman Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi.
Libya has been split between two rival governments since Libya Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misratan forces, seized Tripoli, and the elected government fled to the eastern city of Tobruk.
The U.S.’s deployment to Wattiya may affect the civil war, because the base is the hub for operations by the recognized government, based in Tobruk, against forces of rival Libya Dawn, which holds Tripoli.
Libyan jets based there have staged airstrikes against Dawn forces, who have launched unsuccessful offensives to capture the sprawling base.
In recent weeks, French and U.S. reconnaissance flights have flown over Sabratha and ISIS bases further east at Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna.
[PHOTO CAPTION: The soldiers were seen driving a yellow dune buggy. Photograph: Libyan Air Force/Facebook.]
Western diplomats are concerned that while Libya’s rival governments fighting each other, ISIS is advancing without serious opposition. This week ISIS units briefly occupied Sabratha itself, triggering fears the town’s noted Roman ruins would be targeted. In eastern Libya, the group is closing in on the country’s key oil ports.
A new U.N.-brokered unity government, announced on Thursday, is expected to issue a formal invitation for British, French, and U.S. forces to strike ISIS in the coming days.
A Pentagon statement confirmed U.S. forces were at the base. A spokeswoman said: “With the concurrence of Libyan officials, U.S. military personnel traveled to Libya on 14 December to engage in a dialogue with representatives of the Libyan National Army. While in Libya, members of a local militia demanded that the U.S. personnel depart. In an effort to avoid conflict, they did leave, without incident.”
U.S. SPECIAL OPS TROOPS KICKED OUT OF LIBYA
December 17, 2015
WASHINGTON -- A group of U.S. special operations troops who had traveled to Libya to "foster relationships" was kicked out of the conflict-torn country soon after they arrived, the Pentagon said Thursday.
A Facebook page belonging to the Libyan air force posted photographs of the men, who were dressed in rugged civilian clothing, including plaid shirts, and were carrying assault rifles.
A U.S. defense official confirmed that the men in the photo were indeed U.S. troops in Libya on Monday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the troops were in Libya "with the concurrence of Libyan officials."
"U.S. military personnel traveled to Libya on 14 December to foster relationships and enhance communication with their counterparts in the Libyan National Army," the official said.
"While in Libya, members of a local militia demanded that the U.S. personnel depart. In an effort to avoid conflict, they did leave, without incident."
Since the oil-rich North African nation descended into chaos after the ouster and killing of long-time leader Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, authorities have struggled to maintain order in a country splintered by tribal loyalties and former militias vying for power.
Taking advantage of the chaos, the Islamic State group has gained a foothold in Libya, which has also become a hub for trafficking of migrants towards Europe.
LIBYA AIR FORCE REVEALS FAILED U.S. SPECIAL FORCES MISSION
By Jack Moore
December 18, 2015
The Libyan air force has revealed the presence of U.S. special forces in the country, posting pictures of a failed mission on its official Facebook page on Wednesday. These show Libyan forces making 20 American commandos turn around and board a flight to Italy.
The Facebook page posted four photographs showing caucasian [sic] males, dressed as civilians, holding weapons and boarding an aircraft at the Wattiya air base in western Libya. Accompanying the images was a statement that said “a U.S. military plane landed with 20 U.S. soldiers aboard . . . without prior coordination.” It remains unknown why the U.S. troops arrived at the base without prior communication.
It continued to say that the special forces “disembarked in combat readiness wearing bulletproof jackets, advanced weaponry, silencers, handguns, night-vision devices, and GPS devices.” The soldiers said that they were “in coordination with other members of the Libyan army” and the air force said that the incident raised “so many questions about who is dealing with foreign armies under the cover of the [Libyan] army.”
“The response from your heroic army stationed at Watiya base was to tell them to depart immediately and the group left, keeping their equipment with them,” the statement added.
The incident was announced two days earlier by Ali Tekbali, member of the internationally-recognized parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk, known as the House of Representatives (HoR). He tweeted on Monday: “20 U.S. soldiers were dropped with their vehicles on Libyan lands (near Watia). Libyan officers and soldiers refused their intervention, disarmed them, and forced them off Libyan lands.”
Senior U.S. defense officials told NBC News that the incident did take place and that American forces have been “in and out of Libya” for “some time now” to advise Libyan forces.
An official from the Tripoli-based government, a rival power to the government in Libya that is linked to militia in control of the air base, told *Newsweek* by email on Thursday: “We don’t have comprehensive details . . . still in the process of gathering information.”
The North African country has been wracked by instability since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since August 2014, it has had two rival governments, one in Tripoli and an internationally-recognized government in Tobruk, but representatives from both agreed to a new unity government on Thursday.
Analysts in Libya say that the American forces may have arrived in the country to assist the new unity government with security measures.
“The suggestions are that these forces are supposed to be taking part in security arrangements at the request of the yet to be [announced] unity government,” says Mohamed Eljarh, non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, based in the city of Tobruk. “It’s not clear what exactly happened. They were asked to leave as there was no coordination. I don't know about gunpoint, but it is possible.”
A Pentagon spokesperson was not available for comment but a Pentagon statement issued to the Guardian read: “With the concurrence of Libyan officials, U.S. military personnel traveled to Libya on 14 December to engage in a dialogue with representatives of the Libyan National Army. While in Libya, members of a local militia demanded that the U.S. personnel depart. In an effort to avoid conflict, they did leave, without incident.”
U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES ORDERED TO LEAVE LIBYA AFTER APPARENT MIX-UP
By Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube, Alexander Smith, and Charlene Gubash
December 17, 2015
A group of U.S. commandos who landed in Libya on Monday were ordered to leave almost immediately because of a possible mix-up between the Libyan air force and army, U.S. and Libyan officials said Thursday.
Senior U.S. defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the incident to NBC News after the Libyan Air Force posted pictures to its Facebook page appearing to show the group of U.S. Special Operations Forces at one of its air bases.
Libya has been in chaos since the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The incident happened Monday but only came to light Thursday, just as Libya's rival parliaments signed a landmark United Nations-sponsored deal to form a government in the war-ravaged country, according to The Associated Press.
American commandos have been "in and out of Libya" for "some time now," according to the U.S. officials, but purely to advise Libyan forces rather than conduct combat operations or training.
One U.S. defense official suggested the group was asked to leave because of a lack of communication between the base in Wattiya, where they landed, and the Libyan forces who would normally "engage" with the American advisers.
This theory appeared to mesh with the Libyan Air Force's Facebook post, which said "a U.S. military plane landed with 20 U.S. soldiers aboard . . . without prior coordination."
It said the soldiers "disembarked in combat readiness wearing bullet proof jackets, advanced weaponry, silencers, handguns, night vision devices, and GPS devices."
When questioned by Libyan soldiers, the Americans aid they were "in coordination with other members of the Libyan army," the Libyan Air Force said.
"The response from your heroic army stationed at Watiya base was to tell them to depart immediately and the group left, keeping their equipment with them," it added.
In a stark illustration of the fractured nature of Libyan society, the country's own air force said in its Facebook status that there were "so many questions about who is dealing with foreign armies under the cover of the [Libyan] army."