America’s involvement in Libya’s maelstrom of infighting between political groups, tribal factions and extremist elements has been murky to say the least. The U.S. has been involved with killing key terrorists from the air and has captured them on the ground, but these were likely tiny snapshots of a much larger picture—a portion of which was disclosed by the Libyan Air Force’s Facebook page this week.
The operators, who are seen unloading off of a C-146 Wolfhound aircraft operated by the Special Operations Command at al-Watiyah Air Base and toting tricked out rifles, were apparently told to leave by local officials who said they had no permission for being there. It remains unclear if the commandos stayed in the country or left, but in the pictures they can be seen loading their gear onto a Polaris MRZR tactical buggy.
American special operations and intelligence personnel are known to have been operating around Libya in the past. Famously, they executed a “snatch and grab” operation against Ahmed Abu Khattala, who was a suspect in the Benghazi attacks. Yet since evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, America’s continued involvement in the Libyan conflict has become even more murky.
The airfield where the operators arrived is known to be a hub for forces that support Libya’s internationally-recognized government that is currently in exile from the country’s traditional seat of power in Tripoli.
The Pentagon released a statement to The Guardian, it read:
“With the concurrence of Libyan officials, US 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 US personnel depart. In an effort to avoid conflict, they did leave, without incident.”
The troops appearance comes as French and U.S. reconnaissance flights have occurred over extremist held-areas in Libya recently, with French Rafales flying off the aircraft carrier Charels de Gaulle making runs over the country just days after the Paris attacks.
This all comes as two of Libya’s rival factions have signed a tentative deal to form a unified government. If this new government were to solidify, it could turn to Europe and the U.S. for help fighting off extremist factions that have infested Libya following the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. This help would almost certainly come in the form of special operations and counter-terror personnel. As such, the arrival of this shadowy 20 man force at al-Watiyah Air Base may have been associated with this news.
With all this in mind, the U.S. and some of its European allies may be planning on drastically increasing their military involvement in Libya’s still very uncertain future.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Photos via Libyan AF Facebook page. Other sources CBS News