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CIA and British agents 'operating in Libya for several weeks'

CIA teams of clandestine operatives have been operating in Libya for 'several weeks' as part of a 'shadow force of Westerners,' according the New York Times and other agencies.

As President Barack Obama insisted no US ground troops will join in the Libyan campaign, small groups of CIA agents have been working in Libya for several weeks and are part of a shadow force of Westerners working to hamper Gadhafi's military, the New York Times reported, citing unnamed US officials.

The report also said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are also working inside Libya

The operatives are said to have been gathering ntelligence for military airstrikes and making contacts with rebels battling Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

The CIA sent operatives into Libya after the agency's station in the capital was forced to close, and officers assisted in the rescue one of the two crew members of an F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed, a US official and a former U.S. intelligence officer told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The agency's precise role in Libya is unclear. Intelligence experts said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces battling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the event President Barack Obama decided to arm them.

The US official and the former US intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the CIA helped safely recover the fighter jet's weapons specialist, who was first picked up by rebels. The pilot was rescued by Marines.

They suffered only minor injuries, the military has said. Officials have declined to say what mission the F-15 was on at the time of the crash March 21. The crew ejected after the aircraft malfunctioned during a mission against a Libyan missile site.

The former intelligence officer said some CIA officers also had been staging from the agency's station in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

Obama said in a national address Monday night that US troops would not be used on the ground in Libya. The statement allowed for wiggle room as the president explores options in case he decides to use covert action to ship arms to the rebels and train them. That would require a presidential finding.

In that event, the CIA would take the lead, as it has done in the past such as in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003. In those covert action programs, CIA officers along with special operation forces were sent in, providing arms to opposition forces to help fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The CIA, White House and Britain’s Ministry of Defense have declined to comment on the reports.

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