Qatar revealed for the first time on Wednesday that hundreds of its soldiers had joined Libyan rebel forces on the ground as they battled troops of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on ground were hundreds in every region,” said Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya.
The announcement marks the first time that Qatar has acknowledged it had military boots on the ground in Libya.
Previously Qatar said it had only lent the support of its air force to NATO-led operations to “protect civilians” during the eight-month “uprising”, which ended when Qaddafi was killed after being captured last week.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Doha of military allies of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), Atiya said the Qataris had been “running the training and communication operations.”
“Qatar had supervised the rebels’ plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces,” he said.
Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the meeting that Qatar had been “a major partner in all the battles we fought.”
He added that the Qataris had “planned” the battles which paved the way for NTC fighters to gradually take over Qaddafi-held towns and cities.
Meanwhile, Libya’s interim leader urged NATO on Wednesday to maintain its involvement in the country until the end of the year, though the Western military alliance is keen to wind up its formal mission within days.
Jalil said he wanted NATO help in stopping Qaddafi loyalists escaping justice.
But at the Brussels headquarters of the alliance, whose air strikes and intelligence backed the motley rebel forces for eight months at substantial financial cost, NATO officials claimed that their U.N. mandate was to “protect civilians”, not target individuals.