In our coverage of foreign Special Operations units, there is one country which is easily overlooked. When we think of SOF in the Western world, it is Rangers, SEALs, SAS, KSK, or somewhat more obscure units like SOG or FSK that come to mind. In a conversation about international Special Operations units, few would mention Switzerland’s DRA-10. In a country famous for neutrality and chocolate, fewer still would be aware of the Swiss hostage rescue mission that almost got off the ground in Libya several years ago.
Even before Hillary Clinton and Silvio Berlusconi unfriended Omar Gaddafi on Facebook in 2011, relations had begun to sour between Libya and Switzerland as early as 2008. The trouble began when Swiss police arrested the Libyan dictator’s son, Hannibal Gaddafi, in Geneva for allegedly mistreating his house staff. Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were later released, but the damage had been done, and Omar Gaddafi carried out a series of retaliations against Switzerland.
Flights from Switzerland to Libya were halted, Gaddafi threatened to stop oil shipments, Swiss businesses were forced to close their doors in Libya, and most notably, two Swiss businessmen named Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani were held on house arrest in Libya, kept as de facto
hostages and political bargaining chips to be used against the Swiss government. The two Swiss nationals were initially allowed to stay in the Swiss embassy but were not permitted to leave Libya. Then, in 2009 when diplomatic negotiations broke down, the two Swiss nationals were kidnapped and disappeared and were not returned for over a month.Negotiations over the fate of Max and Rachid continued to grind away. Both were convicted in a Libyan court of visa violations. The dispute went from being a Swiss problem to being a European problem when Gaddafi then refused to issue visas to any European Union citizens. When Max Göldi was imprisoned, the Swiss government secretly paid Hannibal Gaddafi
1.5 million francs to try to smooth things over and normalize relations with Libya.
While the falling out between Switzerland and Libya was being reported in the European media, what was not reported was the quiet deployment of Swiss counter-terrorist operators to the Swiss embassy. Planning for a high-risk hostage rescue operation began, as the Swiss commandos started working to recover Max and Rachid. In Bern, frustrations were growing with Gaddafi’s bluster.