Libya Air Force Reveals Failed U.S. Special Forces Mission

The armed American soldiers are shown dressed in civilian clothing in photographs released by the Libyan air force on December 16. Libyan Air Force / Facebook

The Libyan air force has revealed the presence of U.S. special forces in the country, posting pictures of a failed mission on its official Facebook page on Wednesday. These show Libyan forces making 20 American commandos turn around and board a flight to Italy.

The Facebook page posted four photographs showing caucasian males, dressed as civilians, holding weapons and boarding an aircraft at the Wattiya air base in western Libya. Accompanying the images was a statement that said "a U.S. military plane landed with 20 U.S. soldiers aboard...without prior coordination." It remains unknown why the U.S. troops arrived at the base without prior communication.

It continued to say that the special forces "disembarked in combat readiness wearing bulletproof jackets, advanced weaponry, silencers, handguns, night-vision devices and GPS devices." The soldiers said that they were "in coordination with other members of the Libyan army" and the air force said that the incident raised "so many questions about who is dealing with foreign armies under the cover of the [Libyan] army."

"The response from your heroic army stationed at Watiya base was to tell them to depart immediately and the group left, keeping their equipment with them," the statement added.

American soldiers have been operating in Niger and other areas in northern Africa. Libyan Air Force / Facebook

The incident was announced two days earlier by Ali Tekbali, member of the internationally-recognized parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk, known as the House of Representatives (HoR). He tweeted on Monday: "20 US soldiers were dropped with their vehicles on Libyan lands (near Watia). Libyan officers and soldiers refused their intervention, disarmed them and forced them off Libyan lands."

Senior U.S. defense officials told NBC News that the incident did take place and that American forces have been "in and out of Libya" for "some time now" to advise Libyan forces.

An official from the Tripoli-based government, a rival power to the government in Libya that is linked to militia in control of the air base, told Newsweek by email on Thursday: "We don't have comprehensive details...still in the process of gathering information."

The North African country has been wracked by instability since the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since August 2014, it has had two rival governments, one in Tripoli and an internationally-recognized government in Tobruk, but representatives from both agreed to a new unity government on Thursday.

Analysts in Libya say that the American forces may have arrived in the country to assist the new unity government with security measures.

"The suggestions are that these forces are supposed to be taking part in security arrangements at the request of the yet to be [announced] unity government," says Mohamed Eljarh, non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East, based in the city of Tobruk. "It's not clear what exactly happened. They were asked to leave as there was no coordination. I don't know about gunpoint, but it is possible."

A Pentagon spokesperson was not available for comment but a Pentagon statement issued to The Guardian read: "With the concurrence of Libyan officials, U.S. 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."