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William Hague takes rap for SAS Libyan bungle

By Nigel Morris and Catrina Stewart

Amid mounting criticism of his handling of the Libyan crisis, William Hague has had to accept the blame for a bungled SAS mission that the opposition called an “embarrassment” that could have led to tragedy.

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

And he added that David Cameron was informed before two diplomats, guarded by six special forces troops, were sent to the east of the country.

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

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

Although Mr 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.

“When we send staff into a potentially dangerous situation, then a level of protection is provided for them based on professional and military advice,” he told the Commons.

“The timing and details of that are operational matters decided by the professionals, but ministers must have confidence in their judgments, as I do, and must take full ministerial responsibility for their judgments and decisions, as I do.”

Mr 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 following |a “serious misunderstanding”. Mr Hague added: “We intend to send further diplomats to eastern Libya in due course.”

But 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.”

He added that the mission was the latest in a catalogue of setbacks for the Foreign Office, including the failure to send flights to Libya to evacuate Britons at any earlier stage. Mr Alexander said: “Twice in as many weeks, ministerial decisions have generated an embarrassment that could all too easily have become a tragedy.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “This mission was ill-conceived, poorly-planned and embarrassingly-executed.

“What are you going to do to restore the reputation of the United Kingdom in relation to foreign policy in the Middle East?”

Mr Hague replied that “further contacts with the opposition in eastern Libya were necessary and desirable”, but they would go ahead on a |“different basis”.

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