Qatar admits it had boots on ground in LibyaDOHA - 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 veteran leader Moamer Kadhafi.
"We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were hundreds in every region," said Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad bin Ali Al-Atiya.
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The announcement marks the first time that Qatar has acknowledged it had military boots on the ground in Libya.
Previously the gas-rich country 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 Kadhafi was captured and killed 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 Kadhafi-held towns and cities.
Atiya also said that after the departure of NATO troops, a new international coalition led by Qatar would oversee "military training, collecting weapons, and integrating the rebels in newly established military institutions."
The coalition, named as the "Friends Committee in Support if Libya" and which held its first meeting in Doha on Wednesday, is made up of 13 countries including the United States, Britain and France, said Atiya.
Abdel Jalil, meanwhile, urged NATO to continue its Libya campaign until year's end, saying Kadhafi loyalists still posed a threat to the country.
Diplomats in Brussels said NATO had decided to delay a formal decision to end Libya air operations until Friday after the NTC's request for an extension and a Russian demand for UN consultations.
by Mathieu Rabechault
(c) 2011 AFP