Training Libyan rebels By Patrick Wintour - Friday 8th April 2011

BRITAIN is to urge Arab countries to train the disorganised Libyan rebels, and so strengthen their position on the battlefield before negotiations on a ceasefire.
Senior British defence sources have indicated that they were also looking at hiring private security companies, some of which draw on former members of the UK`s elite SAS force, to aid the rebels. These private soldiers could be paid by Arab countries to train the unstructured rebel army.
In what is seen in effect as the second phase of the battle to oust Muammar Qadhafi, it is now being acknowledged the disorganised Libyan rebels are not going to make headway on their own. Nato member countries are looking at requesting Arab countries, such as Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, to train the rebels, or to fund the training. Qatar and the UAE are already involved in the Nato-led no-fly zone.
Some British cabinet sources said another Arab country that might be willing to train the rebels is Jordan. They are thought to have the best-trained officers, and are possibly the best army in the region, one cabinet source said. The training of the Libyan rebels might take as long as a month to turn them into an effective force capable of holding ground, and organise flanking manoeuvres. A source said: “They`re not advancing, they`re just driving up the road, and when they see guns drawn they turn round and go back again.”
The British decision to find ways to train and equip the rebels is a further sign of the determination of the UK`s coalition government to drive out Qadhafi. It is argued that the training, if requested by the rebels, would not be in breach of the UN resolution as it would be covered by the mandate allowing “all means necessary” to protect the civilians from attacks by Qadhafi.
With the Libyan rebels angered at what they regard as the reluctance of Nato to adopt a more aggressive bombing campaign, British sources insist the war simply cannot be won from the air and British troops will not be used on the ground.
The British sources estimate that the number of rebel forces with a proper military background, even with defections from Qadhafi`s army, is only in the high hundreds to low thousands.
At some stage a genuine ceasefire will be inevitable, so it is a question of whether it happens when the military advantage lies with Qadhafi or the rebels, the sources said. At present, the advantage is finely balanced, but with rebels unable to hold ground gained.
In recent days they have been trained to dig slit trenches to create simple defensive perimeters. There is a frustration that the rebels advance 30km up the road, and then retreat as soon as they face Libyan government firepower. One aim is to help them launch outflanking manoeuvres leapfrogging up the coastal towns.
It is being argued that there is a parallel with the Northern Alliance`s toppling of the Taliban in 2001 when there was open US air assistance, Northern Alliance activity on the ground, and CIA-backed special forces providing logistics support.
Britain and the US have both said in the last week that they believe it is legal to arm the rebels under the terms of the UN resolution, but it is claimed that arming the rebels if they are not properly trained has drawbacks.
Britain is also looking at how it can improve close air support from the ground. — The Guardian, London

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