Britain's botched secret mission to Libya that ended up in its members being captured and humiliated by the very people they had gone to help was authorised by Foreign Secretary William Hague himself, the government confirmed on Monday.

The admission came as it faced more embarrassment after it emerged that a call by British Ambassador to Libya Richard Northern appealing for the release of the captured men and apologising for their behaviour was intercepted by the Libyan regime and broadcast on state television.

The incident happened on Friday when six members of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) and two junior diplomats landed in a rebel-held area of Benghazi, eastern Libya, unannounced. The government said their aim was to establish contact with groups fighting the Qadhafi forces and assess their humanitarian needs.

But in a farcical turn of events, the men were seized by rebel commanders who had no prior information about their mission and taken to a military base reportedly in handcuffs. Their helicopter, weapons and telephones were confiscated. Rebel leaders were reported to be furious fearing that such interventions would be seized by the Qadhafi regime as evidence of western interference. It took frantic calls from London to senior rebel leaders to secure the men's release. Mr. Hague attributed the incident to a “misunderstanding'' and insisted that another team would be sent soon. Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said the operation was done in “the normal way''.

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