Hague pilloried after bungled Libya mission

By Nigel Morris, Catrina Stewart

Amid mounting criticism of his handling of the Libyan crisis, Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, yesterday had to accept the blame for a bungled SAS mission which the opposition called an "embarrassment" that could have led to tragedy.

Nonetheless, attempting to downplay his own role in the process, he stressed that the military was responsible for the details of the operation.

He said that Prime Minister David Cameron was informed before two diplomats, guarded by six special forces troops, were sent to the east of the country.

Hague was forced to make a Commons statement after the fiasco, which led to the detention of the Britons by rebel leaders and the confiscation of their weapons and helicopters. Earlier, Downing St had confirmed the Foreign Secretary had approved the dispatch of the "diplomatic team" to Libya.

Al Jazeera reported that the Britons were captured after a gunfight. The rebels fired because they did not know who had landed, while the British fired into the air so as not to injure anyone and inflame the situation.

MPs of all parties mocked the decision to send the advisers - who were charged with forging links with opposition leaders - to a location outside Benghazi at night.

Although Hague told the Commons he accepted "full ministerial responsibility" for the botched operation, he also sought to pass some blame to the Government's military advisers.

Hague added: "The Prime Minister and other colleagues were aware we would attempt to put a diplomatic team into eastern Libya."

The Foreign Secretary also insisted there had been a communications breakdown with opposition leaders, who had "welcomed the idea of a British diplomatic mission" ahead of the team's detention after a "serious misunderstanding".

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "The British public are entitled to wonder whether, if some new neighbours moved into the Foreign Secretary's street, he would introduce himself by ringing the doorbell or, instead, choose to climb over the fence in the middle of the night."

Jalal el-Gallal, a member of the media committee in Benghazi, said of the British team: "Nobody knew anything about them. They just pitched up. Friend or foe, it's not proper."

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