Britain was on Tuesday set to get more deeply involved in Libya by sending a contingent of military officers to help the rebels fighting anti-government forces in Benghazi, sparking warnings of a “mission creep”.

The move, announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, came as NATO stepped up its military operations with what it described as “deliberate, multiple strikes against command and control facilities” of Muammar Qadhafi's regime. These included the Tripoli headquarters of a brigade accused of leading attacks against civilians.

British officers would join a team of diplomats which is already in the area to advise and liaise with the rebels. Mr. Hague said it had been decided to “move quickly to expand the team already in Benghazi to include an additional military liaison advisory team”.

Critics warned the decision amounted to deploying “boots on the ground” and Britain could be in breach of the U.N. mandate which restricted military intervention to enforcing a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

But Mr. Hague said the officers would not be involved in training or arming the rebels and insisted the move was “consistent” with the U.N. authorisation.

“This deployment is fully within the terms of U.N. resolution 1973 both in respect of civilian protection and its provision expressly ruling out a foreign occupation force on Libyan soil. Consistent with our obligations under that Resolution, our officers will not be involved in training or arming the opposition's fighting forces. Nor will they be involved in the planning or execution of the NTC's military operations or in the provision of any other form of operational military advice,” he said.

BBC said Britain had already supplied body armour and telecommunications equipment to rebel forces.

Keywords: Libyan crisis

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