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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.
A major Islamic State (ISIS) offensive against Kurdish and coalition forces in Iraq launched by around 300 Jihadists was blunted by powerful RAF air strikes this week. The goal of the ISIS offensive was to seize several Kurdish towns they believed were poorly protected and had they succeeded then no doubt their populations would have had to face the horrors of ISIS occupation and their corrupted beliefs.
The air strikes were coordinated by elite Canadian special forces who have been working alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The attack on the Kurds involved several suicide cars – vehicles fitted with explosives driven by fanatics – and improvised armoured vehicles including bulldozers fitted with metal sheets over the cab for ballistic protection. All of it proved fruitless in the face of RAF firepower.
Colonel Steve Warren from the US military said:
This was the hardest punch [ISIS] had thrown since this summer, and the Peshmerga defeated them.
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.
Earlier this week it was revealed that British Special Forces will return to Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan to repel repeated efforts by Taliban forces to capture the former base. The decision was announced following the US confirming that they will be extending their military presence in the country beyond 2016. Originally the US planned to pull the last of their combat forces out of the country by January. The British team will operate under the American command structure as part of US forces. Additionally, more British soldiers will be deployed to the country to train the Afghan National Army.
The US extension came after the Afghan government expressed their fears that the Taliban are attempting to seize control of the province which would be disastrous for the Afghan leadership. Some observers have already used the request to emphasize both NATO’s failure to secure victory in Afghanistan and that it pulled out of the country too soon despite 13 years of military operations.
Camp Bastion, the former British Army headquarters in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan and now operated by the Afghan National Army (ANA), has been in danger of being overrun by Taliban fighters after repeated attacks prompting the Americans to deploy Special Forces teams to protect it.
Demonstrating just how far security has collapsed in the province since Britain withdrew its forces last year, the United States has been forced to use 90 ‘Special Operations’ soldiers to keep the base in the hands of the ANA. For the ANA the tactical situation has become so dire that its officers are reportedly paying the Taliban thousands of US dollars not to attack them.
Camp Bastion was Britain’s largest operational combat base anywhere in the world since the end of World War II. Initially constructed as an airfield in 2006, it swelled to become the size of Reading and among other things included its own Pizza Hut restaurant. The published cost of setting up and running the camp between 2006 and 2014 is £20billion.
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.