Al Jazeera this week aired footage showing 11 armed Europeans meeting with Libyan rebels. U.K. newspapers reported that the men were former British special forces working for a private security firm hired by the British government to help the opposition topple Moammar Gadhafi. Officially, the British government says it has no personnel in Libya, but a senior military source told the Daily Mirror that the men "are representing Britain." Is NATO overstepping the United Nations mandate to protect civilians, and inching into a ground war to destroy the Gadhafi regime?

Yes, there is no denying it now: The U.S. and its NATO allies have clearly thrown the U.N. resolution out the window, says David Dayen at Firedoglake. We've gone way beyond protecting civilians — NATO has made it clear it "won't end hostilities until Gadhafi leaves power, and the rebels are united on that point as well." If there is some "Blackwater copycat" working with the rebels, we're in clear violation of the U.N.'s marching orders, "which explicitly... excluded any foreign troops on Libyan soil."
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This merely helps even the odds: Moammar Gadhafi has been using mercenaries to reinforce "what is left of his regular military," says Mark Hosenball at Reuters. Even if France and Britain have sent private military contractors to train the rebels, the foreigners working against Gadhafi on the ground are still far outnumbered by those fighting for him. And the presence of British security contractors is hardly surprising — it's no secret that President Obama has authorized CIA operatives to gather intelligence and advise rebels in Libya.
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The war has entered phase two: We are witnessing "a major shift in the nature of military operations," says Michel Chossudovsky at Global Research. France and the U.K. are sending attack helicopters that can hammer Gadhafi's forces from up close, and a few well-placed Western special forces or security contractors can help spot targets for NATO missile strikes. The allies aren't going into a ground war, but they are taking the air campaign closer to the ground.
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