Mercenaries joining both sides in Libya conflict

Thu Jun 2, 2011 10:12pm GMT

* Gaddafi using more private contractors than rebels

* Westerners turning up near front lines

* U.S. secret operations still very low key

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON, June 2 (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebel groups seeking to depose him are both hiring private military contractors to bolster their fighting forces, according to U.S. and Western security officials.

They said small numbers of private contractors were turning up on the ground in Libya working with rebels fighting Gaddafi's forces.

The officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said that -- to their knowledge -- none of the foreigners working with the rebels was American or being paid with U.S. government funds.

While the use of mercenaries by Gaddafi's opponents appears to be new, the beleaguered Libyan leader has long used foreign freelancers, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. Gaddafi's mercenaries outnumber the rebels', U.S. officials said, and he is relying on them to reinforce what is left of his regular military, significantly weakened by an increasingly aggressive NATO military campaign.

Contractors working with the Benghazi-based rebels may have come from or been recruited through private military companies in countries such as France and Britain, which are playing the most active front-line roles in the NATO campaign.   Continued...

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