Following a report by French paper LeMonde that in addition to increased reconnaissance flights over Libya, substantial human and signal resources from France’s special operations command have been deployed to the country, President Francois Hollande has confirmed the authorization of extended military involvement in the country. However, according to French officials, the mission remains secret and ‘unofficial’, relying heavily on assets from the country’s Commandement des Opérations Spéciales (COS: Special Operations Command) and its highly secretive clandestine intelligence and operations agency, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieur (DGSE). In addition to standing up Foreign Internal Defense operations, partnering with local Libyan militias and rebels, French SF have also been reportedly involved in directing airstrikes, as well as conducting targeted strikes against known terrorists, a role that the unit filled previously during France’s Operation Serval in Mali.
French Special Forces soldiers have been observed in Eastern Libya since mid-February and France has in recent weeks set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in northern Niger, near the Libyan border.
Following the reveal of France’s secret Libya mission, a source told The Telegraph that British ‘advisers’ had also been discreetly deployed to the city Misrata to conduct covert, disruptive operations against jihadist networks in the area. The British government has so far refused to comment on whether it has special forces soldiers on the ground in Libya, where David Cameron gave enthusiastic backing to the armed uprising five years ago that unseated Colonel Gaddafi, but sources within Misrata have confirmed a ‘small number’ of British troops were present on a ‘low key mission’. The UK SF contingent joins the now not-so-secret French forces in the region, as well US SOF, who have been observed ‘indirectly’ training local militias in the country since 2011, helping anti-Gaddafi rebels to topple the old regime, and as recently as December 2015 when an SF unit was photographed unloading weapons and equipment at Watiya airbase.
US Special Forces spotted unloading equipment in Libya, December 2015
While Tobias Ellwood, UK’s foreign minister, has rejected the notion of UK forces engaging in combat operations against ISIS in Libya, he alluded to the possibility of UK SF training a new Libyan army. However, since the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime, no Libyan army has existed, meaning that the Western advisers are likely continuing to train, arm and work alongside more groups of US-backed rebels.
The amassing coalition of Special Forces points to the Western powers embracing a joint, covert anti-terrorist unit to target and interrupt the ISIS threat across the Islamic Maghreb and Sahel regions, and could be the precursor to an eventual broader, NATO coalition ground intervention. As Libya struggles to bolster itself against the threat of ISIS, the country’s condition seems to be drifting dangerously close to the 2012 breakdown in Syria that paved the way for civil war. Western governments are racing to stand up beleaguered Arab nations like Libya against the trans-continental threat of ISIS, and the global counter-terror doctrine has been reshaped to center almost entirely around Special Forces operations. After almost two decades of special operations development in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ‘Global War on Terror’ is entering a new era, one where covert is the new conventional when it comes to exercising military force.