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.
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.