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Proving that despite the end of open hostilities Northern Ireland remains a divided land; a Ballygawley secondary school has received complaints from parents with nationalist backgrounds after a British Army recruitment team visited the school during a careers event. The decision to include British Army representatives has been branded “insensitive” given that many families in the area had lost family members in combat with British forces. Dungannon Independent Republican councillor, Barry Monteith, said that he shared parent’s “justifiable anger”.
One particularly vocal parent opposed to the decision was a cousin of Tony Gormley who was one of eight Irish Republican Army (IRA) men shot dead by members of the SAS in the Loughgall Ambush on May 8th 1987.
The College would never intend to cause offence or hurt to any member of our community. We welcome into our school, children of a range of cultures and faiths and we are educational partners with both maintained and controlled schools. With that in mind, we aim to provide as much factual information about a wide range of careers as we can to our student body whilst ensuring that such information is age appropriate so that students can make objective, informed choices about careers at the appropriate time.
It is in this context that a career event about Apprenticeships organised by STEMNET took place within the school. STEMNET provide ambassadors from a wide range of Industries and government organisations throughout Northern Ireland. We now appreciate the choice of Ambassador sent by STEMNET may have caused offence to some of our community and it would never have been our intention to do so.
The British Army are looking to create a new level within its special forces units to better combat the threat from Islamic State. Known as “Tier 2” the proposal would involve hundreds of highly skilled and specially trained soldiers and officers who can be deployed rapidly to troubled areas around the world.
This in itself is not a new concept exactly but what makes “Tier 2” forces different is that their primary aim will be to train local forces in specialist combat techniques to tackle Islamic State. They will also act as coordinators between regular British units and the local forces tackling Islamic State or other extremists groups around the world.
The new concept will build on existing experience of British special forces units working with and training local forces. As far back as the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s where the SAS worked closely with local tribesmen to defeat communist insurgents, British special forces have worked with locals to fight enemies of the UK. The “Tier 2” concept is not too dissimilar to American operations by units such as the Green Berets who have been active since the 1960s.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the UK’s special forces are to receive a budget of £2bn to fund their war against ISIS. The money will fund new weapons, protective equipment, communication devices, vehicles and specialised helicopters for units such as the SAS and the SBS.
It is a significant increase in spending for the elite units and confirms earlier statements by David Cameron whereby he outlined that special forces will play a more significant role in combating ISIS. The £2bn is to be spent over the next five years but does not correspond to an increase in the MoD’s existing budget. This implies that the money is being relocated from other assets which will be downscaled. The UK remains committed to the current budget of 2% of the GDP as required by NATO membership.
Home Secretary Theresa May also confirmed that an extra 1,900 jobs would be created at Britain’s three main security agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It represents a 15% increase in personnel whose main role will be to provide intelligence to the British government and armed forces as well as formulating appropriate responses such as the use of special forces.
A USAF MV-22 Osprey inserted the SAS unit (commons.wikimedia)
Britain’s military elite, the Special Air Service (SAS) working alongside a US Army Delta Force unit inflicted a heavy blow on ISIL when a mission to kill a senior Islamic State (IS) commander Abu Sayyaf was carried out deep inside eastern Syria earlier this year. The mission was preceded by an intensive surveillance operation on Sayyaf for the US-led mission by the British special forces unit before the operation to kill him was authorised by Washington and London.
To aid in identification of friendly units between the two special forces teams the British troops wore US uniform during the operation and were inserted in to Deir ez-Zor by American Osprey aircraft to establish the observation post which recorded the militants’ lucrative black market oil and gas trade. This vital information was then fed back to the military planners in Washington for Delta Force’s raid to guarantee the maximum damage not only to ISIL’s command structure but also to their financial support chain.
The operation began with an attack on Sayyaf’s compound by US fast-jets before 50 Delta Force troops stormed the site. In the battle that followed 15 ISIL fighters including Sayyaf himself were killed. A number of prisoners were also taken including Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, and reportedly a slave girl his family was keeping. There were no American or British casualties and US forces stated that it was the SAS’ reconnaissance operation that made it all possible.
While the SAS is best known for its hostage rescue and raiding operations, reconnaissance operations such as the one carried out at Deir ez-Zor are a major part of the elite unit’s mission. During the Falklands War, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Gulf and Afghanistan this largely unsung mission of the SAS has perhaps been its most important contribution to final victory by locating key enemy personnel or equipment and organizing an attack. Despite the popular image of the SAS charging in to battle, 99% of the time they will coordinate air or artillery operations to destroy the target before slipping away leaving the enemy’s survivors to wonder just how the British knew of their location. This most recent operation is therefore almost a textbook example of the SAS’ work in this area (excluding the US uniforms of course).
Back in the UK news of the SAS’ involvement in the operation has sparked yet more questions over the extent of British forces operating in Syria following the parliamentary vote not to send troops in to the war-torn country last year. Last month some politicians claimed David Cameron’s government was circumventing the vote by having British pilots fly operations over Syria with French and American air forces.