The SAS has been ordered by the Government to train Libyan special forces despite the country having armed the IRA, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
For the past six months Britain’s elite troops have been schooling soldiers working for Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, which for years provided Republican terrorists with the Semtex explosive, machine-guns and anti-aircraft missiles used against British troops during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Sources within the SAS have expressed distaste at the agreement, which they believe could be connected to the release of the Lockerbie bomber.
Britain’s relationship with Libya has been under the spotlight since Abdelbaset al Megrahi was freed from a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds last month after being diagnosed as suffering from terminal prostate cancer and given three months to live.
Gordon Brown has faced claims that his Government helped engineer Megrahi’s release to promote Britain’s commercial interests, particularly energy, in Libya.
Downing Street has denied the allegations, but Jack Straw, the Justice Minister, has admitted that trade was a factor in deciding to include Megrahi in an earlier prisoner transfer agreement with Libya. Megrahi was the only person convicted for the murder of 270 people killed in the bombing in 1988 of Pan Am flight 103.
The disclosure that members of the SAS are training their Libyan counterparts will further raise suspicions about exactly what has been agreed behind the scenes between Tripoli and Britain.
It will also infuriate families of the Lockerbie victims and further sour relations with America. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama told the Prime Minister of his “disappointment” over Megrahi’s release.
Defence sources said the training arrangement must have been given high-level political approval.
Members of Britain’s elite regiment are angry at having to help train soldiers from a country that for years armed terrorists they fought against.
An SAS source said: “A small SAS training team have been doing it for the last six months as part of this cosy deal with the Libyans.
“From our perspective we cannot see it as part of anything else other than the Megrahi deal.” Another SAS soldier said: “The IRA was our greatest adversary now we are training their backers. There was a weary rolling of the eyes when we were told about this.”
The Ministry of Defence refuses to comment on special forces activities, but sources have admitted that SAS reserves have bolstered the team that has been training “Libyan infantry in basic skills”.
A senior defence source admitted: “This is a huge political embarrassment.’’
The first moves towards setting up the training agreement are believed to have begun after Tony Blair visited
Libya as Prime Minister in 2004. However, the deal was only finalised and “signed off” by Mr Brown earlier this year.
Robin Horsfall, a former SAS soldier who took part in the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980 and fought the IRA in Northern Ireland, said:
“There is a long list of British soldiers who have died because of Gaddafi funding terrorists.
“The SAS is being ordered to do something it knows is morally wrong.’’
The team – a troop of between four and 14 men – is training the Libyans in counter-terrorism techniques, including covert surveillance.
However, the “full spectrum of techniques” learned from fighting Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is not expected to be passed on.
Once an international pariah, Col Gaddafi agreed in 2003 to give up Libya’s weapons of mass destruction and has since enjoyed steadily improving relations with the West.