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An analysis of where UK Special Forces have been deployed since 2011

Britain’s Special Forces have been deployed operationally in at least 19 countries in the past decade, new analysis reveals, raising questions over the degree of transparency and democratic consent these shadowy units operate under.

Mapping, undertaken by research charity Action on Armed Violence, shows that, since 2011,  UK’ Special Forces (UKSF) have been primed to contact or surveil hostile forces in Afghanistan, Algeria, Estonia, Mediterranean (Cyprus), France, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, Strait of Hormuz (Iran/Oman), Syria, UK, Ukraine and Yemen.[1]

There are a further six sites where UKSF have trained foreign forces or where they have based themselves before launching into another country. These are: Burkina Faso, Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Djibouti.

And there are another seven locations known to be used by UKSF for their own exercises. These are: Albania, Falklands, Gibraltar, Belize, Brunei, Malaysia, and Canada, although there are likely to be far more.

Here AOAV outlines the operations, the evidence and the background to these hostile deployments.

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Methodology

We have defined ‘deployed operationally’ as primed to contact or surveil hostile forces. We have not included locations only used for bases before launching into other nations (see Djibouti, Jordan, Turkey, Oman), training of foreign forces (see Saudi Arabia) or internal UKSF training.

If we included the sites of training foreign forces, or where UKSF have based themselves before launching into another country, the number would increase by six (Burkina Faso, Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Djibouti)

If we included the sites of UKSF internal training exercises, the number would increase by another seven (Albania, Falklands, Gibraltar, Belize, Brunei, Malaysia, Canada) although the number is of course likely to be much higher.

Six of the 19 were the site of hostage rescue.

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Libya

The UKSF’s decade began in Libya. Unrest sparked by a violent crackdown on protesters by Muammar Gaddafi soon developed into a civil war. Special Forces troops were first used to rescue British and foreign oil workers. But then a combined SAS/MI6 team were captured by armed farmers at a checkpoint in eastern Libya. This caused a huge embarrassment at home, with calls for Foreign Secretary William Hague to resign. There was confusion over the covert nature of the mission since rebels had already reached out for British support. As the war went on at least 350 UKSF members, across SAS, SBS and SRR, were reportedly in Libya, leading the hunt, along with their French counterparts, for Col. Gaddafi and his loyalists.

One of the results of the civil war was a rise in Salafi jihadism in Libya. By 2015, the UK was again sending in commandos to the city of Sirte to combat ISIS. Knowledge of the UKSF presence was bizarrely revealed by King Abdullah of Jordan in his briefing to the US Congress. Despite protests by Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, the Foreign Minister Philip Hammond confirmed there was no need for parliamentary approval for even deploying regular British soldiers on the ground.

Troops continued to train Libyan forces whilst fighting ISIS. In 2017, an 80-strong SBS team was deployed with US, French and Italian forces to deny ISIS any opportunity to establish a base in Libya after ‘hundreds’ were pouring in after defeats in Raqqa and Mosul. The force was also targeting smuggling cartels. In April 2019, an SAS unit had to be evacuated out of Tripoli and Tobruk after an eruption of violence.

2011 – Operation Ellamy

February, 26-27: 150 – 300 British and other foreign oil workers were rescued from the Libyan desert by RAF Special Forces Hercules aircraft and SAS/SBS troops over five flights. (Telegraph)

March: First confirmation that UKSF were on the ground in Libyaafter a combined MI6 / UKSF team were arrested then eventually released by rebels in eastern Libya. Libya’s rebel commanders have freed two MI6 officers and six SAS soldiers captured by farm guards on Thursday morning, after the British government vouched for their identities. [Guardian] They were delivering a £4m ‘hacker-proof’ communications system when they were caught. (Daily Star Sunday).

Confusion over whether it was SAS or SBS: Independent . This is London: The SAS, based in Herefordshire, are furious that they have taken the blame for the mission, which is said to have involved the Special Boat Service

Subsequent reports appeared to confirm that UKSF were active in Libya. Daily Mail reported 350 UKSF troops were deployed in Libya with more to come. And confirmed that all SAS, SBS and SRR were all active.

(Guardian) They were advising, training and working alongside rebel groups, attempting to pinpoint and destroy Gaddafi’s weapons, such as long-range surface-to-air missiles, while also engaging in intelligence gathering operations.

June: Images of suspected armed SF and MI6 in Libya in Al Jazeera footage.

August: SAS troops reportedly led the hunt for Colonel Gaddafi. Since the fall of Tripoli in late August, British special forces have concentrated in assisting the rebels in mopping up remaining pockets of Gaddafi loyalists, such as those in Sirte, as well as hunting for Colonel Gaddafi himself.(Telegraph, Metro)

August: Reports that the killers of PC Yvonne Fletcher in Libyan embassy shooting 1984 were being hunted by SAS teams. (Guardian)

October: source told the Sunday ­Express: “A team of around eight men from British and French special forces had been tracking Gaddafi right up to the point where his convoy was attacked and he was subsequently killed. “It was immediately turned round to track down his son, Saif al-Islam.” – who was fleeing to Niger.

2015

November: Both the UK and US have secretly sent in commandos to Libya, with special focus on the city of Sirte, amid fears that ISIS may even move its main base there. Likely SAS. (Mail)

2016

January: Leaked memo froma confidential briefing confirmed that UKSF had been engaged on the ground as part of an offensive against IS. They were reportedly working alongside Jordanian forces in western Libya. (Guardian)

March: British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond, confirmed that ‘military advisers’ had been deployed to Libya but didn’t provide further details on number or in what capacity. [Ministerial statement]

April: UNCONFIRMED: 100 British special forces were said to be operating in Libya in early 2016, helping to protect government officials while also advising Libyan forces on fighting the Islamic State. The Libyan Express reported that ‘British and American intelligence officers “with suitcases full of cash” are bribing tribal leaders not to oppose an international ground force in the country’.

May: UKSF reportedly fired a missile to destroy a Daesh truck packed with explosives in Libya. A vehicle carrying an ISIS bomb across a bridge on a road to the town of Misrata was destroyed by a missile fired by British Special Forces on May 12th. (Telegraph)

June: UKSF are training local fighters to push out ISIS in Sirte. The psychological operations unit of JSOC intercepted the insurgent’s communications and blasted them with Bollywood chart music.In one incident the team – helped by Libyan troops – left two cars near checkpoints on the edge of Sirte and at dawn blasted Bollywood music by remote control through two huge speakers in the vehicles. (Mirror)

July: UKSF were engaged in fighting and directing assaults alongside Libyan forces against Islamic State, reportedly in Benghazi in a French-led multinational military operation supporting Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. (Middle East Eye)

July: Libyan brigades backed by British special forces flushed out Islamic State terrorists Sirte. The latest reported firefight, which took place in the city’s “700” district in mid-July, appears to have been the most prolonged frontline engagement involving British troops to have been disclosed. Soldiers used the precision weapon, nicknamed “the Punisher”, to fire a barrage of “air-burst” grenades above a suspected Isis position in the city of Sirte. According to the Libyan commander, when the Isis guns fell silent the British team got into waiting vehicles and withdrew, taking their empty ammunition casings with them to avoid being identified as foreign fighters.The Libyan fighter said the battle in July was the first time his unit had fought alongside British special forces who, he said, were dressed like Libyan troops. (Times)

2017

August: 80 members of the Special Boat Service, supported by 40 British specialists, were deployed with US, French and Italian forces in a top-secret operation to deny IS any opportunity to establish a base in Libya after ‘hundreds’ were pouring in after defeats in Raqqa and Mosul. The force was also targeting smuggling cartels. [Express]

2019

April: An SAS unit was evacuated by RAF Hercules as conflict erupted in the cities of Tobruk and Tripoli. The SAS unit had to be evacuated by the RAF following the rapid advance of rogue general Khalifa Haftar and his forces. (Express)

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Yemen (incl. Djibouti)

A Vice News investigation revealed that UKSF would be ‘temporary visitors’ to bases in Sanaa, to conduct kill or capture missions of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) facilitators. The report also revealed that operators from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment had been seconded to MI6, which allowed the MOD to remain compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, whilst also having UKSF personnel conduct assassinations.

In 2014/15, two hostage rescues alongside US and UAE forces respectively, were launched in Yemen, launching from nearby Djibouti.

Two years later, SBS troops were again flown into Djibouti, to protect transit shipping in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait after Houthi rebels attacked an oil tanker. At the start of 2019, a 12-man SAS/US Green Beret team was tasked with locating drop zones for food and medical supplies to Yemenis suffering from the conflict on the ground around Aden. The forces began suffering casualties.  In February, two SBS troops were injured by a roadside bomb. A month later, at least five SBS members were injured in Sa’dah, northern Yemen , with two being shot by Houthi rebels.

A former British serviceman who had returned from Yemen in 2019 told the Mail on Sunday that the conflict saw UKSF fighting on the same side as child soldiers. This is because Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its main partner in the war, bribed Yemeni tribal leaders with links to Al Qaeda to take their side in the conflict and up to 40% of their forces can be children.

2012-15

British personnel serving in Yemen confirmed that two of the trainers of the Yemeni National Security Bureau were operators from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (a special forces unit), who had been seconded to SIS. This made their presence deniable by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), which said in a 2014 statement to human rights NGO Reprieve: “The UK does not provide any military support to the US campaign of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) strikes on Yemen.” The secondment allowed British military personnel to assist with the drone program, but under the aegis of intelligence operations managed by the FCO.

In addition to the NSB they helped to train Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO), the country’s secret police, in surveillance, communications, and intelligence-gathering — all of which helped to establish positive identifications of targets before drone strikes. The PSO has been implicated in systemic human rights abuses.

SF continued to train and work with Yemen’s CSF, despite all others stopping intelligence sharing with US, “because of the drone program and our requirement for counterterrorism rule of law.”

A British official noted that, “once they are seconded, the MoD loses any control over what they get up to.” This allowed the MoD to remain in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, while British troops were nonetheless used to assist in the assassination of targets. (Vice)

2013

August: Show of force against Al-Qaeda, training exercise with Navy. The Mirror reports that once Cougar 13 reaches Djibouti, off the Horn Of Africa, elements of British Special Forces, namely Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops, will ‘simulate evacuating British nationals taken hostage by terrorists’.

2014

December: A British force of 10 SAS and intelligence operatives were part of the US-led Coalition Joint Special Operations Task Force to rescue Brit/US citizen Luke Somers from Al-Qaeda hostage situation in a cave in Shabwa region, which deployed from the former French colony of Djibouti. (Express)

2015

August: SAS behind the hostage rescue of Bob Semple. UAE troops conducted the rescue, unknown whether UK troops were on the ground in the operation. (Mirror)

2016

January: British Ministry of Defence confirmed that its forces [not necessarily special forces] were in the “command and control centre” to provide training and advice for Saudi air strikes in Yemen.[Guardian]

2018

June- July: 20 SBS troops flown into Djibouti after Houthi rebels attacked an oil tanker in international waters, so were sent to protect shipping transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait .  Joined US SF – dubbed Coalition Task Force 150. “Armed members of the SBS boarded Queen Mary 2 last month as the passenger ship transited the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Aden – dubbed ‘pirate alley’. The Coalition Special Forces team has the capability to launch drones from the secret Camp Lemonnier base in Djibouti. It can also launch a raid against any attackers using Osprey V22 tilt-rotor helicopters.” [Mail]

2019

January: A 12-man US/UK special forces task force, comprising the SAS and the US Green Berets, was flown into Yemen.They were tasked with locating drop zones for food and medical supplies. (Express)

The soldiers were dressed in Arab clothing and were reported to be operating near the government-held town of Marib, 500 miles north of Aden. They were tasked with locating drop zones for food and medical supplies which can be easily accessed by desperate locals. The SAS is working alongside members of Operational Detachment Alpha, the primary fighting force for the Green Berets. Under US command, the heavily armed Special Forces team flew into Aden from Djibouti aboard a UAE Chinook helicopter and met UAE commanders before heading north-east in unmarked pick-up trucks. (Express)

February: Two SBS troops were reportedly injured by an IED [roadside bomb] while on a humanitarian mission in Yemen following the battles in the Sa’dah area of northern Yemen [still Marib base]. (Mail)

March: SBS troops’ presence in the country (report refers to at least 30 troops) made public following a Daily Mail report on special forces casualties wounded while fighting Iranian backed rebels. The SBS mentoring teams inside Yemen include medics, translators and Forward Air Controllers (FACs), whose job is to request air support from the Saudis.

At least 5 members of the Special Boat Service had been injured during fighting in the country, suffering leg and arm wounds. (Mail)

A SBS source said: ‘The guys are fighting in inhospitable desert and mountainous terrain against highly committed and well-equipped Houthi rebels. The SBS’s role is mainly training and mentoring but on occasions they have found themselves in firefights and some British troops have been shot.

‘In a contact a few weeks ago, a SBS guy was shot in the hand and another guy was shot in the leg. Their injuries were a reminder that this is a very dangerous assignment. Obviously nothing about the mission will be confirmed publicly by the Ministry of Defence unless a UK soldier is killed – they’d have to announce that.’

NB: The conflict has also seen British Special Forces fighting on the same side as jihadis and militia which use child soldiers. This is because Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its main partner in the war, have bribed Yemeni tribal leaders with links to Al Qaeda to take their side in the conflict. – up to 40% of their forces can be children, according to MoS source.

2021

August: 40 special forces soldiers were deployed to Mahra, eastern Yemen to track down the Houthi perpetrators of the tanker attack. The team also includes a “specialist warfare unit”. US and Israeli intelligence believe the drone was launched from eastern Yemen by reportedly Iranian-backed militants (Express).

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Afghanistan

Britain’s war in Afghanistan officially ended in October 2014. But Special Forces stayed behind and continued to fight the Taliban and ISIS insurgents. Despite only being there to ‘train, advise or assist’ Afghan forces, there are numerous reports of the SAS and SBS being involved in lethal night raids of suspected insurgent commanders.

This was similar to their role while the war was going on. Serious allegations have been levelled at the UKSF during the period of 2009-2012. Night raids and other search operations by British, American and other special forces units led to 295 civilian deaths between 2009 and 2012, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

A series of investigations by BBC Panorama and the Sunday Times Insight team highlighted evidence of a rogue SAS unit that had killed 33 people on 11 night raids in the first quarter of 2011. Further evidence was uncovered of two incidents in 2012 of young unarmed men being killed during SAS night raids, with troops later claiming they had all drawn weapons. To fully understand the allegations of war crimes and the apparent cover-up, we recommend watching the full Panorama and reading the Sunday Times exposé.

Aside from these incidents, a joint SBS and Afghan night raid on the Taliban outside of Kabul resulted in a British casualty. Captain Holloway was believed to be the most senior special forces officer to die in action since 1982. The “embarrassing failure” also led to the Taliban capturing special forces weapons, equipment and a military dog.

In 2019, it was reported that SAS would double its presence from 50 to 100, their main role being to conduct kill-or-capture missions along US special forces. This was in response to President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of the country.

2011

January – March: Documents record fears of senior officers over a pattern of behaviour by a “rogue” SAS unit that had killed 33 people on 11 night raids in the first three months of 2011.

British Army officers interviewed by this newspaper believed the SAS raids were often based on unreliable intelligence and raised suspicions that the soldiers set out to kill rather than capture Taliban suspects in contravention of the rules of engagement. The officers said this led to the shooting of innocent civilians with no connection to the Taliban insurgency.

One ex-SAS officer has suggested that what at times was in effect a “shoot-to-kill” policy may have been caused by frustration in the ranks that those captured would be freed soon afterwards without yielding useful intelligence.

Night raids and other search operations by British, American and other special forces units led to 295 civilian deaths between 2009 and 2012, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”

A British special forces officer said that at one point the Afghan CF 333 commando unit refused to patrol with the SAS because of concern about their conduct. – The Sunday Times, 2017

The concern was echoed by the military police source. “How do you justify in an after-action report that it was right to kill someone? You photograph them with a gun . . . There were issues being investigated about what’s called ‘drop weapons’,” the source said.

The sources also claimed the soldiers had attracted suspicion by placing the pistol in the left hand of the victims on too many occasions and by using the same gun serial number when compiling mission reports on the killings.

February 16, 2011: Four innocent civilians, according to Afghan special forces and the victims’ families, were shot dead during the night raid in the early hours of the morning. The target was Saddaam, 22 year old university student who SAS believe is part of a Taliban bomb squad. He and his brother Atta Ullah, 24, were killed running away from the compound. Earlier, Abbdul Khaliq, 55, was ordered into the house and shot in the head by SAS soldiers. SAS soldiers claims the father grabbed a grenade from behind a curtain. 20 year old Ahmad Shah was ordered into another building and shot dead. SAS soldiers claim he had picked up an  assault rifle from behind a table. Both were hooded and handcuffed. They left in helicopters after having taken photos of weapons next to the victims’ bodies.

Saifullah, the son of Abdul, who is also the cousin of Ahmad, who was 19 at the time and detained at the compound also,  has brought a High Court case to seek an independent investigation of the killings.

March: British special forces in Afghanistan have intercepted an Iranian shipment of rockets to the Taliban that would have allowed them to double the range of their attacks, western diplomats have said. The rockets were discovered after an intelligence tip-off on 5 February when British special forces and Afghan troops stopped a convoy in Nimruz province.  A shoot-out involving the special forces left several Taliban fighters dead. (Guardian)

July, 20: British couple in their late 20s, of Afghan origin, were captured by SAS during raid in Herat (historic city close to Iranian border). The couple were known to MI5 in Britain but they were not considered “high priority” targets and managed to leave the country unnoticed, security sources told the Daily Telegraph. The couple are now the subject of a legal discussion at the Foreign Office as lawyers try to work out whether they can hand them over to the Afghan authorities – in accordance with normal practice – without breaching human rights laws. The handover normally takes place within 96 hours of capture but in this case extensions have been requested. It is understood they have not been formally arrested.

2012

Sunday Times/Panorama incidents

Raid 1: (Panorama, BBC) SAS raidon a compound in Helmand Province where three “unarmed” children and a young man were shot dead, in the village of Loy Bagh near Camp Bastion, one special forces soldier reportedly entered a side building and killed four young inhabitants.

Sultan Mohammed and Sabbah said Fazel, 20, and Naik, 17, were killed with two other boys, 14 and 12, also being slain

According to the leaked documents, he told superiors he fired because they were standing up with what looked like weapons, despite bullet marks on the walls suggesting they were all sitting when shot.

The documents allege a senior SAS commander later emailed International Security Assistance Force headquarters describing the raid as Afghan-led, thereby avoiding an immediate RMP probe.

Raid 2 (Bebe).Three unarmed young men, brothers, were shot village of Rahim in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province. SAS claim they all drew weapons. Mother received £3,634. Caused a backlash with the local population. No intelligence to suggest the men were connected to the Taliban.

Chris Green: “According to the SAS, despite being surrounded and outnumbered, Bebe’s three adult sons simultaneously reached under their night clothes for concealed weapons and were lawfully shot and killed in self defence. According to their mother, her unarmed sons were cruelly and callously slain in cold blood with their hands in the air in front of their families.

The crystal truth of what actually happened that night was captured on the gun tape of an overhead aircraft but, for reasons that have never been disclosed, the SAS has refused to release it for scrutiny.

I was given the task of liaising with the SAS to find out why they had conducted the raid. It was not an easy conversation. Initially I was told to f*** off. When I persisted, I was informed that Bebe’s sons were Taliban commanders and given the stock account of concealed weapons. When I asked to see the gun tapes I was accused of being a Taliban-loving apologist and told to f*** off again.

When I raised my concerns with Task Force Helmand headquarters I was, rather more politely but no less forcefully, ordered to drop my enquiry.

Persistence of village elders led to an “assistance payment of £3,000 to Bebe, the mother of the three shot and killed.” Shockingly, no one was particularly shocked or even surprised. It was widely acknowledged that Special Forces were a law unto themselves.

“To say it’s not compensation to the family is nonsense, really,” he said. “This is what everybody called it on base, including the officers directly involved in paying the money. I am unaware of any money paid to the families of insurgents.

“I think this is significant evidence and, together with the refusal to share the gun tapes, indicates this mission warrants full investigation.”

April: It was reported that members of the Special Boat Service (SBS), led the operation to counter a Taliban attack on a construction site in Kabul, claiming that they donned Afghan military uniforms in order to blend in with Afghan forces.

NATO officials were keen to present the security operation in Kabul as a strictly Afghani effort but this version of events has gradually unravelled due to the reports of NATO special forces involvement as well as footage of U.S. helicopter gunships being used to engage the insurgents. (Sky News)

June 1 – SAS-US SOF op carried out to rescue Helen Johnston, Kenyan medic and two Afghans, being held in Shahri Buzurg, close to the border of Tajikistan. All hostages were rescued safely. (BBC)

August: Capture of several terrorists from terror group known as the Haqqanis, foiling future suicide bombing attack – Kabul. (Mirror)

September: SAS bodyguards whisk Prince Harry away when Taliban attacked Camp Bastion. (Mirror)

2013

May: SF (Task Force 42) have captured the Taliban leader thought to be responsible for the roadside bomb that killed three British soldiers last month. The dawn raid, carried out with Afghan forces, took place in the Marjah region near Nad-e-Ali, close to the British base in Lashkar Gah. (Express)

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported on an operation by Task Force 42 that discovered a number of roadside bombs at a secret Taliban IED factory in Helmand.

August, 23/24th: Successful ambush of Taliban, 30 killed, no casualties. Taliban were fleeing from Nimruz to Helmand, over the desert, after being attacked by US drone missile. (Mirror). This skirmish is one of the most successful special forces operations in recent years. It would appear that the Taliban are trying to regain a foothold in Helmand ahead of the planned withdrawal of British forces from the province in 2014.

December, 23rd: A joint force of Afghan troops and special forces (SBS) was helicoptered at night on an area – a valley outside of Kabul – which was considered a place where the Taliban recuperated, trained and planned attacks. Captain Holloway of the SBS was shot and killed. (He is believed to be the most senior special forces officer to die in action since 1982). An officer said that the raid had ‘disrupted the Taliban in an area they felt safe’; ’another was wounded and a military working dog fell into enemy hands’.

“Embarrassingly for British special forces commanders, the Taliban also managed to capture weapons and equipment, including at least two assault rifles fitted with silencers and night-vision sights, a GPS tracking device, stun grenades and a night- vision camera.

“Holloway was a member of Task Force 42, a secretive elite force consisting of the SAS, SBS, Special Forces Support Group and Special Reconnaissance Regiment.” (Times)

2014

April: Special Forces support Lynx helicopter crashed during a training flight on the 26 April 2014, with the loss of all five British servicemen aboard. 12 miles south of Kandahar Air Field. (Telegraph)

October: As the 13 year war officially ended, sources confirmed “Special forces will continue to operate in the region. (Telegraph)

2015

February: Telegraph revealed that UKSF, along with intelligence officers from MI6, were engaged in a joint US/UK/Afghan CT campaign.

August: Despite troops allegedly being withdrawn from the county in 2014 and the government claiming those left would only remain in an advisory capacity. But a report detailed that UKSF had been in the country since 2015. But SAS forces had reportedly been fighting alongside afghan commandos, against Taliban and IS insurgents. Report by the Mirror indicates that this campaign has been intensifying. The paper claims that the SAS and SBS are carrying out raids on an almost nightly basis. (Mirror)

September: SBS inserted into Kunduz via helicopter. Once on the ground, they joined with Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in order to coordinate efforts to retake the city from the Taliban. The SBS operation including attacks against targets in the city and at a nearby airbase. As part of the fighting, which is ongoing, SBS Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) have been calling in air strikes from US warplanes. “Killing up to 200 insurgents” according to the Mail.

December: Up to 60 American special forces, backed by at least one British SAS unit of about 30 soldiers, have joined Afghan troops in the battle to save the town of Sangin, which saw a quarter of all UK deaths in Afghanistan and was held by the British from 2006-2010. (Times)

On 22nd, they went on several night raids, (Kajaki road, other districts of Helmand and near Lashkar Gah) killing 20 Taliban Mail Source: “Officially the British troops were only present in a mentoring role but when they get that close to a fire-fight it is hard to stop them. Publicly speaking their job is to ‘train, advise and assist’ the Afghans. I think on this occasion the SAS’s interpretation of this role was to show the Afghan commandos how the job.” A senior Nato officer admitted that UK troops are helping their Afghan counterparts ‘at a tactical level’ – but he insisted that it was the Afghan army and not international troops who were doing the fighting.

2017

November: ISIS ambush in Afghanistan. The British special forces unit was ambushed by ISIS gunmen and took refuge in a farm where the soldiers fended off the insurgents with their rifles and anything at hand, it was reported.The sergeant – a veteran of dozens of battles – ran out of ammunition and used the spade as a weapon when a jihadist charged at the soldiers, the Daily Star reported, quoting unnamed sources.The remaining jihadis fled when two US military Apache attack helicopters arrived at the battle site in eastern Afghanistan.The Brits didn’t have any ammunition left by the time they were rescued by a US Chinook helicopter, it was claimed. (Mirror)

2018

February: Increase in SAS forces from about 50 to more than 100 . The commandos conducted kill-or-capture missions alongside US special forces and came under the command of the American-led Joint Special Operations Command. Part of the force was made up of 15 snipers who were part of a specialist unit tasked with killing Taliban commanders. An SAS squad recently demolished an entire Taliban command.

One source told the Daily Star Sunday: “The JSOC had received intelligence that a Taliban High Value Target was located in a compound in Eastern Afghanistan, close to where an SAS unit was based.

“The mission was passed to the British troops in what was described as a kill-or-capture operation.Troops moved into an overwatch position but were spotted by a Taliban drone. The insurgents opened fire and the operation changed from a ‘capture’ to a ‘kill’.(Star)

July: A report claimed that “dozens” more special forces troops had been sent to the country to bolster security efforts against rising Taliban and IS insurgency. (Mirror)

2019

March: US requested greater assistance from the UK in counterterrorism efforts. Increase in UKSF coincided with the US withdrawing troops from the country.Number of regular troops increased from a reported 50 at the beginning of 2018, to an estimated 1000 in mid-2019. Small contingent of SBS forces were also operating in central and eastern Afghanistan (Independent)

2021

June: More than 50 SAS soldiers were deployed to protect the estimated 600 UK troops in Kabul as NATO completed its withdrawal (Mirror)

August: 20 Soldiers from the SAS were rescued in Kandahar, Afghanistan as the province fell to the Taliban. A RAF Hercules aircraft from the 47 Squadron was used to rescue the troops under the cover of darkness (Asia Times; Daily Mail). It remains unclear what the troops’ initial mission was or if this itself was completed successfully.

300 Special Forces troops were sent to Afghanistan, in addition to the existing 600 troops from the 16 Air Assault Brigade. The mission was to provide security to Home Office staff and assist in the evacuation of UK citizens and Afghans eligible for evacuation (Operating Pitting). Similarly, troops from the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (British Army) was placed on standby for deployment to Afghanistan (Daily Mail)

SAS soldiers are believed to have been conducting special rescue operations within Kabul, as part of the UK’s wider evacuation effort as the country fell to the Taliban. There is reportedly friction with the US military who were not doing the same for their citizens (Mirror).

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Iraq

The UK’s military operations in Iraq formally in May 2011, with the bulk of troops having left by April 2009. Parliament approved airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq in September 2014, with the explicit commitment by the government to not sending out ground troops.

Yet by 2014/15, British boots were again on the ground, in the form of Special Forces troops. The target was ISIS, with Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly giving UKSF a ‘carte blanche’ to launch raids against the terrorist group’s leaders. In fact the first teams were deployed to northern Iraq weeks before the vote on airstrikes to collect intelligence.

As well as conducting terrorist man-hunts, SAS troops were also advising Iraqi forces to coordinate air strikes and supporting Kurdish forces. By January 2016, they had conducted their (publicly reported) ground attack against ISIS in Ramadi and had more than 200 personnel in the country. Strength in numbers enabled the resumption of covert parachute assaults and the creation of a kill list of 200 British jihadists.

A presence has continued, conducting manhunts for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as well as regional militia leaders, after British soldier Brodie Gillon and two US soldiers were killed by a rocket attack on Camp Taji. Troops would repeatedly strike in Iraq and northern Syria as part of a flurry of killings of 100 IS fighters in April – June 2020.

And in January 2021, SAS and US SOF parachutists were injured as they collided into each other in mid-air during a night raid on ISIS, near Baiji. They were severely injured but managed to radio for rescue. It was reported that UK forces are “increasing their ‘mission tempo’ against IS after a Covid-induced lull.”

2014

August: Large force deployed to northern Iraq around 21st Aug. The SAS are working in small teams, supported by signallers from 264 (SAS) Signals. The SAS teams will be collecting intelligence from captured British IS fighters, including voice recordings, iris scans, blood types and DNA samples. This intel will be beamed via radio link to the RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint that is flying signals intelligence (SIGINT) missions over Iraq. Specialists aboard the aircraft will perform an immediate analysis and also relay the intel to GCHQ Cheltenham where it will be analysed in more detail and compared to their vast library of phone intercepts and other data. (Mail)

August: SAS and SBS teams were deployed to assist US forces with the evacuation of 30,000 Yazidis from Mt Sinjar. (Mirror)

September: SAS and American special forces working with Kurdish fighters on the Iraqi front lines as discussions under way to give them dedicated base near the Kurdish city of Dohuk. (Telegraph)

October:  An Islamic State (IS) convoy was halted by a lone British Special Air Service (SAS) sniper team operating in Iraq. Two-man SAS team were in a sniper hide on a hillside when they spotted a single truck carrying IS fighters and approaching a small Iraqi village. Fearing that the IS militia were going to attack the villagers, and without air support on hand, the SAS team elected to engage the IS vehicle. (Daily Star)

2015

August: 8-man SAS squad tracked down ISIS leader, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali in northern Iraq. The SAS men decided to ambush the vehicles and take Hayali alive, fearing an airstrike close to the town would result in too many civilian casualties. But they eventually concluded their chances of successfully escaping with him were too slim. Concerned they might lose Hayali, the team sent orders for an air strike to be carried out when the vehicle was in the open so there would be no risk to civilians. US Fighter dropped 500lb bomb when it was in open country (Daily Star)

December: The Telegraph reported that ‘several dozen’ SAS troops are advising Iraq forces around Ramadi. These include six officers led by a Royal Artillery major who act as forward air controllers, coordinating air strikes in support of Iraqi ground forces. They are said to have hit numerous targets, including an ISIS bomb-laden truck which was taken out on Boxing Day.

2016

January: The SAS soldier was part of a team advising Iraqi forces operating in the city of Ramadi. When a group of ISIS personnel were located on the top floor of a building that also housed civilians, it was decided to use a sniper rifle to engage them, rather than with an air strike or artillery barrage.”It would be the first time that British troops are known to have taken part in a direct ground attack against Isil.” – Telegraph

January: Two female SRR soldiers were stopped at an ISIS checkpoint and shot their way out. (Mail)

February: Britain reportedly had more than 200 special forces soldiers in the country, operating out of a fortified base within a Kurdish Peshmerga camp near Mosul in northern Iraq. On a joint op with German and US special forces, three SAS/SBS soldiers were injured by shrapnel. (Express)

May: SAS and SBS commandos were sent in to support Kurdish and Iraqi troops fighting Islamic State. Special Forces units now have the green light to resume covert parachute assaults against terrorists. The all-clear for the first attacks of this kind since the Iraq war came after trials using a new RAF C-17 carrier, which have just ended successfully. (Mirror)

May: Three mid-ranking ISIS warlords have been seized in lightning assaults by SAS in Mosul, ahead of a major assault. American, British and Australian special operations forces (SOF) have all carried out snatch missions, often supported by Iraqi SOF. (Mirror)

October: It was reported thatUKSF were supporting coalition air strikes against IS. The same report claimed that SAS soldiers had caught two senior Isis commanders during a raid on the city’s outskirts. (Star)

November: SAS forces given a ‘kill or capture list’ which included the names of 200 British jihadists. One senior defence source said: “A kill list has been drawn up containing the names of hundreds of very bad people. A lot of them are from the UK. The hunt is now on for British Islamists who have effectively gone off-grid. “This is a multinational special forces operation. The SAS have their own part of the plan and they will be going after British nationals. This is a kill or capture mission and it has already begun. (Times)

2017

February: It was reported that UKSF who were embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish fighters as advisers had been dragged into the battle for Mosul. (Mail)

August: A SPECIAL forces plane worth £65million had to be written off as an “operational loss” after a 100mph crash landing. SAS soldiers on a mission against IS in Syria survived as the Hercules C-130J slewed off the runway at Erbil, Iraq. The Hercules was returning after picking up UK and US troops at a desert airstrip in Syria. 47 Squadron RAF Special Forces fly the Hercules on insertion, extraction and resupply missions in support of UKSF. This may necessitate landing on unprepared landing strips, with all the risks that entails. Several Special Forces Hercules have been lost during landings, including 2 in Afghanistan and 2 in Iraq (including this most recent incident). (Sun)

2019

May: 30 SAS and SBS troops were reportedly working on a kill or capture list to find Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also reportedly involved Mi6 and GCHQ (Mirror)

2020

January: It is understood around 50 members of the Special Air Service and the Navy’s Special Boat Service along with the Special Forces Support Group will be sent to Iraq to help any possible ­evacuation of Britons in the region – as ­tensions soared after the US killed Iran’s top military man. (Mirror)

March, 11: UK and US special forces, together with a western intelligence cell in Iraq, were urgently trying to track down the militia leaders who fired the devastating volley from a single lorry on Wed­­nesday evening, that killed British soldier Brodie Gillon and two US soldiers in Camp Taji. (Mirror)

April-July: SAS working alongside Kurdish forces killed 100 IS fighters in a number of a battles in Northern Syria and Iraq. Those IS killed included British nationals. DNA was used to prove the identity of the jihadists killed. The renewed assault began on April 10 when UK ground troops, accompanied by British-trained Kurdish soldiers, forced fanatics to take refuge in a building before an SAS radio operator called in two Typhoons based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and a drone flown by controllers at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. (Mail)

2021

January: An SAS soldier has been critically wounded in a dramatic parachuting accident during a secret night-time operation against Islamic State in Iraq. The trooper crashed to the ground at high speed following a mid-air collision with a US special forces soldier on the same operation who was also severely injured. They managed to radio for help and within minutes dozens of heavily armed SAS and Delta Force troops scrambled onto CH-47 Chinook helicopters at a secret base. The incident involving the SAS soldier, from A Squadron, happened late last month near Baiji, 130 miles north of Baghdad. UK forces are said to be increasing their ‘mission tempo’ against IS after a Covid-induced lull (Daily Mail).

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Syria

The Syrian civil war developed out of the country’s Arab Spring protests in March 2011, with fighting becoming widespread by July. According to his memoir (For the Record, p279), David Cameron was pushing other countries to deploy their special forces in Syria as early as January 2012. By August, it was reported from multiple sources that teams from SAS and SBS were ‘understood to be based in the neighbouring state of Jordan, slipping into Syria on missions’’.

According to European and Jordanian sources in 2013, training of rebels had been going on for a year and was focused on senior Syrian army officers. Unconfirmed reports in French and American media suggested that UKSF had been assisting Syrian rebels in Turkey and Lebanon as early as 2011. The former British ambassador Peter Ford would later tell a parliamentary enquiry that “moderate” groups among the armed opposition was “largely a figment of the imagination”.

In August 2013, MPs rejected a proposal for military action in Syria after reports of chemical weapon attacks by the Assad regime. David Cameron became the first prime minister to lose a parliamentary vote on military action since Lord North in 1782 when parliament voted to stop fighting in the American War of Independence.

However, three days before this vote, UKSF and MI6 were on the ground actively hunting for Syrian missiles that might be used against RAF jets. And despite the airstrikes never taking place, in October 2014, Special Forces were reported to be calling in US airstrikes to defend the town of Kobane.

By December 2015, parliament had approved airstrikes “explicitly” against ISIS commanders but not for deploying British troops on the ground. Despite this, there are multiple reports of UKSF fighting on the Syrian frontline in al-Tanf, Raqqa or near the Turkey/Syria border – sometimes even wearing US uniforms to maintain secrecy. They were even photographed in August 2016.

In 2018, a rare SAS fatality was reported. Matt Tonroe, was killed alongside a US commando in a friendly fire incident. The Americans originally blamed the deaths on a roadside bomb. A year later two SAS members were hospitalised after being hit by a missile in eastern Syria. Troops would repeatedly strike in northern Syria and Iraq, alongside Kurdish forces, as part of a flurry of killings of 100 IS fighters in April – June 2020.

2012

February: British Special Forces are to be sent to Syria following Marie Colvin’s death. Up to five squads will protect UK journalists and officials, including staff at our embassy in Damascus. (People, Feb 26)

August: Teams from SAS and SBS are ‘understood to be based in the neighbouring state of Jordan, slipping into Syria on missions’’ (Daily Mail) . Official purpose of FCO officials being there is for the provision of training and equipment to opposition forces. According to European and Jordanian sources in 2013 (Guardian), training of rebels had been going on for a year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers. Forces included Brits, US and French. Another source (American Conservative) says UK and French SF are on the ground delivering training to rebels. (NB: British intelligence were also supplying intelligence to rebels from Cyprus).

Peter Ford, the former British ambassador to Syria, told a parliamentary enquiry in 2016 that the existence of “moderate” groups among the armed opposition was “largely a figment of the imagination”. (MEE)

2013

August, 27 (This was three days before the parliamentary vote on Syria action): The British hunt for missiles and chemical weapons – which includes the SAS, Special Boat Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment and MI6 spies – is one of the most hazardous in modern times as they are up against Assad’s forces as well as some rebel elements. Special forces troops will use laser and satellite technology to pinpoint the exact location of the key sites so they can be hit in a way that minimises the risk to civilians. It comes after the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attack last week, which killed up to 1,300 civilians, including children. (Mirror)

2014

October: British Special Forces have been defending the besieged Syrian town of Kobane. Special Air Service (SAS) Forward Air Controllers (FAC) have been calling in U.S air strikes. (Star)

2015

UK Parliament approved air strikes against IS on December 3 but vowed that troops would not be deployed on the ground.

SAS in Syria: They are deployed as snipers, calling in air-strikes, pursuing “high value targets” who are identified as ISIS commanders, directing mortar strikes and close-up fighting with the SDF. (Daily Record)

May: SAS soldiers reportedly carried out vital surveillance on leading IS figure, Abu Sayyaf, for the US-led mission before their allies attacked and killed him. The crack SAS troops joined US Forces on the mission in May this year. To keep their participation a secret, they wore US uniforms and carried American weapons. (Mail)

July: An additional 20 SAS soldiers flew into Saudi Arabia to prepare a training system in which the UK will instruct hundreds of members of the Syrian Moderate Opposition. (Express)

Troops were also reported to have ‘frequently crossed into Syria from their base in Jordan to assist the New Syrian Army’ in the southeastern Syrian village of al-Tanf, f. It was reported that British special forces had provided training, weapons and other equipment to the New Syrian Army since 2015. (Times)

Sniper killed three ISIS insurgents who were beheading Shia’s. Near Turkey/Syria border, “where an elite SAS unit had been conducting covert patrols.” (Express)

PM Cameron had given “carte blanche” for the SAS and SBS to kill and capture ISIS leaders, in Syria, Iraq and N.Africa as part of the Government’s “broad spectrum” response to the murder of 30 British tourists in Tunisia. (Times)

August: UK Special Forces are mounting hit and run raids against Islamic State deep inside eastern Syria dressed as insurgent fighters. More than 120 members belonging to the elite regiment are currently in the war-torn country on operation Shader, tasked with destroying IS equipment and munitions which insurgents constantly move to avoid Coalition air strikes.They are being supported by more than 250 specialists, who provide additional communications support. (Express)

December, W/C 28: Eight-man SAS unit posed as the wives of ISIS chiefs by covering themselves from head-to-toe in burkas, managing to blag their way through to the group’s headquarters in Raqqa. They were driven through the town in a Toyota pick-up truck – the make favoured by jihadi murderers – with the help of local Syrians working with the secret service to help bring down ISIS. Called in a US Reaper airstrike and then fired on escaping militants. (Express)

2016

June: Reports claimed that UKSF were fighting on the Syrian frontline from al-Tanf, near the Iraq/Jordan border. A commander of the New Syrian Army (NSA) later confirmed that UKSF British troops crossed from Jordan ‘to help with reconstructing defences in the village of al-Tanf after a wave of IS assaults’. (Middle East Eye)

July: SAS sniper kills ISIS leader. The two teams of four armed with long range sniper rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers sneaked into a terrorist-controlled enclave of northern Syria. (Star)

August: BBC released report claiming to have photographic evidence of UKSF on the ground in Syria, working in a ‘defensive role’. They were protecting the Syrian army’s base from IS attacks. Report details that the UK forces were heavily armed. (BBC) Official government line (Sep 2016) is that it’s 86 military personnel to assist the US-led training of Syrian opposition forces regarded as moderates.

2018

March: SAS soldier, Matt Tonroe, was killed alongside a US commando in friendly fire incident was originally blamed on roadside bomb)part of the fight against IS. Manbij, northern Syria. (Times)

Chris Ryan revealed in his History of SAS book that they had carried out anaggressive mobile campaign’ (Ryan, History of the SAS pp.335-336).

December: SAS Bushmasters, along with US M-ATVs, spotted in Hajin, in the Deir Ezzor province, eastern Syria. (Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis)

2019

January: Two SAS were hospitalised, one “very seriously” injured, the other “non life-threatening” after being hit by a missile – at a base in the town of Deir al-Zour, eastern Syria. (Daily Record, BBC)

2020

April-July: SAS working alongside Kurdish forces killed 100 IS fighters in a number of a battles in Northern Syria and Iraq. Those IS killed included British nationals. DNA was used to prove the identity of the jihadists killed. The renewed assault began on April 10 when UK ground troops, accompanied by British-trained Kurdish soldiers, forced fanatics to take refuge in a building before an SAS radio operator called in two Typhoons based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, and a drone flown by controllers at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. (Mail)

July: 120 from SF Support Group are reported to be starting a tech-based mission to track ISIS commanders. UNCLEAR ON PHYSICAL LOCATION OF OPERATORS (Star)

British special forces operating in Syria are believed to be resupplied by air from Cyprus, where RAF transport planes can be seen online taking off before their trackers disappear over Syria. (Declassified)

2021

January: A SAS marksman – working as part of a group of SAS collaborating with Kurdish fighters to find an ISIS unit  (a “kill or capture mission”) – killed a suicide bomber and four others

September: Collectively, all three contingents of the Special Forces are believed to have 150 of the Gepard GM6 Lynx rifle, which has been deployed to Syria and Iraq. There is no further information on where and when this deployment took place (Daily Mail)

October: Four members of the SBS were on an operation in Syria when the SBS deployed a new underwater gun and killed two ISIS fighters guarding an oil refinery. There is no information on the original purpose of the SBS’ deployment to Syria (Daily Mail).

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Saudi Arabia

2015

July: See Syria section – Last week (End of July 2015) an additional 20 SAS soldiers flew into Saudi Arabia to prepare a training system in which the UK will instruct hundreds of members of the Syrian Moderate Opposition.

2016

January: British Ministry of Defence confirmed that its forces [not necessarily special forces] were in the “command and control centre” to provide training and advice for Saudi air strikes in Yemen. (Guardian)

Turkey/Lebanon

2011, November: A report in French weekly Le Canard Enchaine on Nov. 23, citing a French military intelligence source, said French and British special forces had made contact with Syrian rebel soldiers in Turkey and Lebanon to establish how strong they were and pave the way for training them, should the decision be made. (Reuters, Dec 2011)

Iskenderum (city in southern Turkey) is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.(American Conservative, Dec 2011)

Daily Star, Jan 1, 2012: The well-placed source said: “We have SAS and SBS not far away who want to know what is happening and are finding out what kit dissident soldiers need.

2012, May 26: Unconfirmed first reports from British, French and Turkish sources say British special operations forces crossed from Turkey into northern Syria Tuesday, May 26, and advanced up to 10 kilometers inside the country. (Debkafile, Israeli news, June 26, 2012)

The report came after the media also revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli to help fuel the unrest in Syria.

Reports also said that French agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.(naharnet/Billeyet)

British special forces (whose presence in Syria was exclusively revealed by debkafile Monday) carried out two tasks: They helped rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, extend their control of territory in the Idlib province on the northern Syrian border with Turkey and Lebanon, and gave them badly-needed hi-tech communications equipment.

They also made it possible for the first Syrian opposition leader, Burham Ghalioun of the Syrian National Council, to set foot in Syria. Under their heavy guard, Ghailioun toured rebel-controlled local villages in Idlib for a few hours before crossing back into Lebanon. Assad’s heavies watched helplessly.

(Debkafile)

Even before this news from Brussels, the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine – as well as the Turkish daily Milliyet – had already revealed that commandos from French intelligence and the British MI6 are training the FSA in urban guerrilla techniques, in Hatay in southern Turkey and in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon. Weapons – from shotguns to Israeli machine guns and RPGs – have been smuggled en masse. (Asia Times)

More recent reports have stated that British and French Special Forces have been actively training members of the FSA, from a base in Turkey. Some reports indicate that training is also taking place in locations in Libya and Northern Lebanon (Elite).
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Somalia

2011

2011, 8 weeks around May-June: SBS conducted covert surveillance around Somali coastline and at a number of ports subject to piracy. (Sun)

2012

February: UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve declared that a proposed plan to launch commando raids and Apache gunship attack missions from HMS Ocean against pirates and al-Shabab forces in Somalia would be legal under international law (2,3). This plan was apparently put on the back burner. (Sun)

March: Up to 60 SAS soldiers were working with Kenyan forces to target al-Qaeda forces in Somalia and to secure Kenya’s border. The British unit included two four- strong teams of Forward Air Controllers (FAC). They work by gathering intelligence on al-Shabeb targets inside Somalian territory. Once a target is pinpointed, its position is fed back to fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters or drones. A missile can then be fired on the target using a laser as a guide.

Chairman of the Commons counter terrorism sub-committee Patrick Mercer claimed that ‘there have been a series of incursions into Somalia by British troops’, further adding that “Our Special Forces wield a considerable amount of power in the region. There is no doubt we are involved in the war against al-Shabaab.” (Star)

2013

October: Al-Shabaab militants claimed that British and Turkish special forces had carried out a raid on a coastal town which killed a rebel fighter, but that a British officer had also been killed and others wounded. An MOD spokesman claimed, ‘we are not aware of any British involvement in this at all’. (Reuters, Telegraph)

2016

April: It was reported that the SAS had a 10-strong team in Somalia which was involved in “regular skirmishes” with al-Shabaab and was also training Somali soldiers. ‘The Who Dares Wins unit is based in a remote camp north of the capital Mogadishu. It has been working with US Delta Force directing air strikes against the insurgents by American jets based in Djibouti’. (Star)

May: The British government said that it had 27 military personnel in Somalia who were involved in training mission to counter al-Shabaab. (Question for MOD)

2017

February: A report on US special operations in Kenya’s Boni National Reserve, right on the border with Somalia claimed that UKSF had provided intelligence for the operations. (Daily Beast)

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Kenya

2010 – context

November: Michael Adebolajo, killer of Lee Rigby, was reportedly snatched by a team from the 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS) in a helicopter raid in November 2010. (Mail)

A contingent of SAS troops have/had been based in Kenya for some time, carrying out operations with Kenyan forces against the Al Shabaab militia, a terror group with ties to Al Qaeda, that operates from neighbouring Somalia.

Part of the SAS mission included targeting people as they attempted cross into Somalia from Kenya, in order to join Al Shabaab. It is believed that Adebolajo, a British citizen, had travelled to Kenya to do just that.

The Daily Mail reports that Adebolajo was captured at a remote location close to Lamu, Kenya, following a surveillance operation. He was put on a scheduled flight back to the UK and he was not escorted by an armed policeman – although a Scotland Yard detective, travelling undercover, is believed to have been on the flight.

2011

September: SBS join forces in Kenya to hunt for British hostage, Judith Tebbutt, who was taken to Somalia. (Sun)

2013

September, 23: The SAS was on the ground in Nairobi tonight helping the Kenyans in their final bid to free the Westgate hostages. A team of the crack soldiers was advising the local military as they stormed the shopping complex and were on standby to take part. (Telegraph)

2014

May: UK special forces were behind a tip-off that led to holidaymakers being flown out of Kenya hours before a double bombing. SAS men have been based in northern Kenya for more than five years as part of a training agreement. (Star)

2019

January: The Sun newspaper has now reported that the UKSF operative pictured was “a long serving member of the Regiment” who got involved when the Kenyan security forces he was training got ordered to intervene at the hotel. He was apparently the sole UKSF soldier on the scene. (Sun)

May: SASunits were ‘combing the ground for intelligence’ that could lead them to capture leaders of Al-Shabaab. (Express)

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Pakistan

2011 (physically based in Afghanistan)

April-May: The Special Boat Service (SBS) and Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) were engaged alongside American Delta Force and the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) to locate Bin Laden. It was reported that two SBS officers had played a crucial role in planning the raid on bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.

“Their top secret role has been described as crucial for the success of the mission. Both men were involved in the detailed planning of an operation so precise that an exact replica of Bin Laden’s sprawling home was constructed in Afghanistan so the assault could be rehearsed.” (Express)

2014

Whilst only one source, the porous nature of the AfPak border and the fact that US SF have been widely reported as operating in Pakistani sovereign territory, including the killing of Bin Laden in 2011, suggests that this singular report is credible:

“American and British special forces are engaged in a secret war against al-Qa’ida and Taliban fighters who have taken refuge in Pakistan. Several US soldiers have been injured in a series of clashes in the mountains straddling the frontier and inside Pakistan, according to military sources. Members of the British Special Air Service and Special Boat Service also took part in some of the Pakistani operations as observers and intelligence gatherers. The delicacy of General Musharraf’s position and Britain’s relationship with Pakistan precludes a more aggressive stance, according to diplomatic sources.” (Independent)

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Nigeria

2012

March: Failed hostage rescue of Brit and Italian. BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said he understood the attack was most likely to have been the work of a splinter cell within Boko Haram, with possible links to al-Qaeda. He said: “I am told British troops were first in. They shot one of the kidnappers but by the time they reached the hostages it was too late.” (BBC, Telegraph)

2014

May: British special forces have joined a growing international effort to locate and rescue hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants in Nigeria.

SAS liaison officers, based in the capital Abuja, have switched their focus to evaluating Britain’s capacity to help the rescue, which has been dogged by claims of delays and incompetence.

The SAS liaison officers were in the country before the kidnappings but are understood to have switched their priority to assessing options open to Britain to help.

One former SAS commander said that the small team, numbering two or three men, could be expanded as required, though he doubted that Britain would take the lead in any rescue attempt. (Times)

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Iran/Oman (Strait of Hormuz)

2019

May: Two SBS teams have joined UK registered oil tankers transiting in the Persian Gulf south through the Strait of Hormuz, where they will be tasked with monitoring Iranian activity around the island of Qeshm (Iranian territory) – home to Iranian naval gunboats. Both teams will collate information as the ships move south through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Gulf of Oman, where it is understood they will be airlifted off by Royal Navy Merlin helicopters operating out of Oman.

Brit military source, speaking to Sunday Express: “This is a waterway where 80 per cent of the UK gas and much of our oil passes from the Gulf to Europe.” (Express)

2021

August: UK special forces were deployed to the Arabian Sea in anticipation for a potential strike mission against the perpetrators an Iranian-backed terrorist organisation purportedly responsible for the attack an Israeli-operated tanker that left two dead (including one British citizen). Special forces were also operating alongside regular troops to assist with training of local troops in the region (Mirror)

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Mali

2013

January: UK special forces active in Mali: Small team is providing non-combat support during French military action against jihadi groups in country, says source (Guardian)

January: At a meeting of the National Security Council today, Mr Cameron is set to approve plans to send manned Sentinel R1 spy planes and Reaper drones to operate in the skies over Mali from an American base in neighbouring Burkina Faso. (Mail)

2020

February, 18: In this Tuesday Feb. 18, 2020, photo, Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service troops exercise under the supervision of British special forces during U.S. military-led annual counterterrorism exercise in Thies, Senegal. More than 1,500 service members from the armies of 34 African and partner training nations have assembled for the Flintlock exercises in Senegal and Mauritania, the two countries in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region that so far have not been hit by violence from extremists linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Cheikh A.T Sy) – The tagline of this photo is not corroborated by any other suggestion of UKSF being in Senegal.

2020, March: Official line is that 30 Royal Marines are training in Senegal, training roughly 80 Nigerian, Moroccan, and Cameroonian soldiers – many from their respective special forces. (Express, BBC)

July: the deployment of a 45- strong SAS unit Special Forces unit to the French base at Gao, in Mali last week, tasked with collating an “intelligence threat assessment” for commanders amid increasing instability in the Sahel and attacks on peacekeepers.

But a former director of Swedish special forces said: “The British force is not just a long-range reconnaissance unit,” Gen Gylennsporre, a former director of Swedish special forces, said. “It is also a force that I foresee has the agility to respond quickly. We can employ lethal force to execute our mandate.”

To mitigate this risk SAS soldiers will attempt to secure intelligence sources – through payment – to ensure warning of jihadi presence in villages or towns through which these vehicles will be forced to pass.

Ironically the British Army’s Mastiff heavily-armoured patrol vehicles, which has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq without casualty and can better withstand the blast of a roadside bomb, are currently being sold off so will not be available for deployment. The SAS team will present its report to the Permanent Joint Headquarters and in December and will continue to shadow troops in a move to counter any attempt by extremists to attack them or use roadside bombs against their vehicles. (Express)

“Living in the desert for long periods, travelling vast distances and still having the strength at the end of it to deliver a knock out blow to your enemy is exactly what the LRDG and the SAS perfected in World War Two,” a source said. “It is exactly what this new scorpion unit will do Mali. It is just a different part of the same desert.”

British troops will work alongside Swedish light infantry, a German intelligence unit, and 400 Chinese soldiers who guard the main camp at Gao run a field hospital. (Sun)

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Philippines

2019

November, 24: A British businessman and Filipino wife were abducted by Islamist militia in southern Philippines were freed by the Filipino SF with the help of ‘a small team’ of SBS personnel. They were found abandoned at the forested areas of Mt. Piahan, boundary of Barangays Silangkan and Kaha in Parang. (BBC)

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Mediterranean

2012 (From Syria section)

Continual: According to European and Jordanian sources in 2013 (Guardian), training of rebels had been going on for a year and focuses on senior Syrian army officers. Forces included Brits, US and French. Another source says UK and French SF are on the ground delivering training to rebels. (NB: British intelligence were also supplying intelligence to rebels from Cyprus).

Peter Ford, the former British ambassador to Syria, told a parliamentary enquiry in 2016 that the existence of “moderate” groups among the armed opposition was “largely a figment of the imagination”. (MEE)

2015

April: SBS to deploy in Mediterannean to tackle people-smuggling operations. “The troops will also be under orders to seize, by force if necessary, the leaders of smuggling operations so that they can stand trial under international trafficking laws.The force are likely to use troops from X Squadron, the unit specialising in the use of minisubs, diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs), subskimmers – a boat which can travel both above and below the waterline. DPVs and subskimmers can allow commandos to enter harbours from hundreds of metres offshore, plant mines and escape without being detected. The blast from the mines will punch a hole straight through a boat’s hull causing it to sink in minutes.” (Daily Star) They’re going to willingly endanger migrants by sinking their vessel??

2016

April: A crack squad of SAS soldiers will be deployed if UK tourists are targeted by jihadis in the Mediterranean. The 150-strong unit will comprise highly trained Royal Marines led by members of the SAS – as part of the wider The Special Purpose Task Group, a counter-trafficking operation.

From their base in Cyprus, they will be able to react should terror come to the beaches or resorts of the region. The Brit soldiers will be on permanent patrol in the holiday hotspot

According to military sources the SAS, under the command of the Director of Special Forces and the Chief of the Defence Staff, will act as “first responders” in the event of a hit by twisted islamists. (Mirror)

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Algeria

2013

January: A small number of SAS counter-terrorism experts were among a rapid deployment team from the UK being flown to Algeria to offer advice to the Algerian forces and help British survivors of gas plant massacre (Mirror)

Later suggested David Cameron would offer training by British Special forces to Algeria as part of a new security partnership. (Bloomberg)

British soldiers would work alongside Algerians on a limited number of operations, but the chief focus would be on shared intelligence, border security and countering extremist propaganda. The aim will be to share best practice on security – increasing the exchange of information between security experts, on issues such as border and aviation security; counter improvised explosive devices; and tackling extremist ideology and propaganda. Cameron was frustrated by the Algerians’ unwillingness to seek western help or advice during the siege of the gas plant, although he acknowledges the Algerian government, given the number and armoury of the jihadists, faced no good option. (Guardian)
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Estonia

2018-19

November, 2018: Troops from 21 and 23 SAS, the elite regiment’s two reserve battalions, were mobilised for operations on the Estonian border with Russia.

They are both part of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade, and were deployed in Estonia between November 2018 and April 2019. Whilst this is technically an infantry brigade, they are part of the UKSF group.

The part-time troops have been trained by serving members of the SAS and must pass an ‘extensive’ selection process.

One source told The Star: “The SAS reservists are probably the best in the British Army, at least as good as regular infantry troops. They are especially trained in long range surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The regular SAS troops are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan so this highly important operation was passed on to the SAS reservists.

“They are very capable troops and have a number of weapons at their disposal along with and including snipers.”

The deployment was part of Operation Cabrit, where British troops, Apache attack helicopters and tanks are part of what is called an Enhanced Forward Presence.

The mission was designed to prevent incursions into Europe by President Putin. Nato commanders believe he may try to annex the Russian-speaking part of Estonia. (Star)

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France

2015

January: SAS and SRR liaison teams were in France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Jan 2015 (Mirror)

2016

June: UK Special Forces “will provide additional security at team hotels and training sessions following last month’s Paris terror attacks, sources revealed.” (Mirror)

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Russia

2014

February: SAS form part of the delegation to protect against Islamic terror attacks at Sochi Winter Olympics. Source: “SAS soldiers will be on hand to protect our athletes in the event of an incident.” (Express)

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Ukraine

2021

April: A “small team of UK special forces” was deployed to Ukraine in an apparent intelligence-gathering mission (Mirror)

This small SAS team has concluded that Russia was conducting a series of ceasefire violations across the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine (Express)

June: In a press release, the British Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine stated that the UK Minister for Defence Procurement and Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine “observed joint training activity of Ukrainian, UK and US Special forces”. This would suggest that there is a training operation of UK special forces in Ukraine (UK Defence Journal)

2022

April: Russia announced there were “looking into a Russian media report alleging that the SAS had been sent to the Lviv region in Western Ukraine”. (Al Jazeera)

The Investigative Committee said it would look at whether – according to the report – the SAS had been sent in to “assist the Ukrainian special services in organising sabotage on the territory of Ukraine”. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted a Russian security source as saying about 20 members of the SAS had been deployed. (Sky News)

June: Group of ex-SAS troopers are reported to be in Ukraine and have killed “killed up to 20 Russian generals and 15 of the feared Wagner mercenaries”.

Some are believed to have served in L Detachment – an SAS reserve unit.

It is understood they were recruited via a Whatsapp group for ex-members of the Hereford-based regiment. The Brits have also helped to train some Ukrainian troops in ambush methods. (Daily Star)

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England

2011

February: SRR tracking members of Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), a faction of the Real IRA in key sites for the 2012 Olympics. (Telegraph)

April 29: SAS snipers assist CO19 marksmen on rooftops, SBS deployed on the Thames and SRR undercover in crowds for the Royal Wedding. (Multiple sources)

2012

July, Aug:  Express report that a 40-strong contingent of female SRR operatives, dubbed ‘the Amazons’, will be deployed on Olympic security detail. The paper reports that the SRR have been training for this assignment for 2 years.

2013

April: SAS, SBS and SRR (undercover) at Thatcher’s funeral (Sun)

2015

Nov: SRR on the streets of London after Paris terror attacks, apparently in undercover surveillance roles (Express).

2017

May – SAS in police uniforms spotted in Manchester following the Manchester Arena bombing, May 2017. While some of the men in the footage are wearing ‘Police’ patches, they are also carrying L119A2 carbines, a model not used by UK police forces.

Special Forces were deployed to Manchester ready to engage in the hunt for accomplices of Abedi (attacker) – Telegraph

June: British Special Forces were mobilised for terrorist attack on London Bridge. Photos show a Dauphin helicopter landing on London Bridge following a vehicle and knife attack there by terrorists on Saturday night. These photos indicate the presence of a 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS) counter terrorism (CT) team, supported by 658 Squadron of the Army Air Corps (AAC). – Dubbed ‘Blue Thunder’

Looking for any terrorists still at large, the Lead Assault Team (aka Blue Thunder) carried out an explosive entry on Southwark Cathedral. “The explosion reportedly damaged parts of the building including the door to the sacristy.” (Mail)

2018

August: A video of a British Special Forces helicopter flying low in fog close to a road in Cumbria has emerged. The footage, taken via a dashcam inside a car travelling along Kirkstone Pass in the Lake District on the 2nd of August, shows the AS365N3 Dauphin 2 helicopter emerging from heavy fog at very low level.

Based on the aircraft type and paint scheme, it has been identified as belonging to 658 Squadron Army Air Corps (658 Sqn AAC), a specialist unit that supports the 22nd Special Air Service (22 SAS). (Independent, Elite)

December, 11 – A counter terrorist operation involving armed Police and United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) troops has taken place in Newcastle. One man was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences. Photos published online (some visible in the tweet embedded below) show a number of units, including what appears to be Police CTSFOs and UKSF (SAS/SBS) operators, pictured at the scene of the daylight swoop on an address in the Arthur’s Hill area of the city.

2018, December 22 –  Twenty-five Special Boat Service (SBS) operatives fast-roped from helicopters onto the ship in an operation lasting less than half an hour, after four stowaways escaped and armed themselves with metal bars. After 12 hours of circling in the Thames Estuary, PM May signed off on SF intervention. (Guardian)

2020

October 26 Isle of Wight – On the night of Sunday the 26th of October 2020, British Special Forces boarded and took control of an oil tanker situated off the Isle Of Wight.

The Nave Andromeda is a Greek-owned crude oil tanker, built in 2011, which was sailing under a Liberian flag. The vessel is 228 meters long with a width of just over 32 meters. It had been travelling from Nigeria towards Southampton. On Sunday morning, the ship’s master asked for help after a group of seven previously discovered stowaways began making verbal threats when the crew tried to lock them up in preparation for handing them over to UK authorities. The twenty-two crew took refuge in the chips citadel, a secure area designed for such situations. (BBC)

2021

November 19: SAS troopers were brought in to help with raids in Liverpool after the taxi cab blast outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. One was pictured. (Mirror)

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Northern Ireland

2009

Belfast Telegraph: One theory is that the announcement on Friday that the Armed Forces Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) was being drafted back into Northern Ireland to keep watch on suspected dissident republican terrorists may have accelerated the timing of the attack on the army base. Although the shooting would have required considerable planning, including regular monitoring of visitors in and out of the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, the confirmation by Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable, of the arrival of the SRR appears too coincidental to be dismissed.

The unit deployed, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), was formed four years ago with the specific aim of targeting international terrorism. However, the core membership is drawn from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and Signals Regiment and many would have seen previous service in Ulster. Much of the covert-intelligence gathering skills of the SRR have also been honed in the province.

            Members of the SRR were put on the ground in Northern Ireland after a car bomb weighing 300lb was found at Castlewellan in County Down. Their main function, according to defence sources, was to carry out deep cover surveillance, including electronic eavesdropping, rather than take part in immediate offensive operations. “It wasn’t a question of them kicking down doors and shooting people in the middle of the night” insisted a senior officer “but providing some much needed intelligence for the police.”

2014

2014 onwards: A squadron of SAS and Special Reconnaissance Regiment troopers have been secretly working in Northern Ireland for the past three years.(Sun, Feb 2017) The elite troops were sent back to the province to track down and disrupt dissident Republican terrorists after their attacks began to spiral again in 2013. “Their undercover work is very difficult and dangerous, and they have to live behind the wire in tough conditions just like we had to in the worst days of the Troubles.” The source added: “The irony is nobody would even have known about their general service medals as they’re SF, so it’s pathetic they have been refused.” Defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said: “Its seems to show immense disrespect for the very talented people who show immense bravery to make Northern Ireland safe.If they are deserving of recognition, they should receive it. The politics of Northern Ireland should not stand in the way of such awards.”

50 troops operating mostly in Andersonstown area, a Republican stronghold in West Belfast. (Express)

2015

Dissident republicans believed to be behind two recent murder bids on security forces are being tracked by a special Army unit in Belfast, it has been revealed. It’s further understood that undercover members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) are using unmarked cars to monitor the activities of suspects as they travel around the city. (Belfast Telegraph)

2021

April: A Special Reconnaissance Regiment team (at least eight soldiers) have been deployed undercover to Northern Ireland amid a surge of protests and sectarian violence. The team will “help co-ordinate intelligence operations and attempt to identify the ringleaders behind the violence” (Mirror)

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Scotland

2011, April, 6: SRR track 26 year-old murder suspect. He was thought to be behind the car bombing that killed NI police officer PC Kerr. Eventually he was arrested in Renton, West Dunbartonshire. The arrest was also linked to a weapons cache found in east Tyrone. (Daily Record)

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Training of UKSF only

Albania

2013: SF part of training exercise with Navy/Marines in Albania – Albanian Lion that then goes on to Djibouti.

Falkland Islands

Dec 2014/Jan 2015: ‘Invasion’ of the Falkland Islands by SBS “amid fears that Argentina may try to land commandos on one of the 700 small islands in a bid to claim sovereignty.” (Express)

Gibraltar

2014, March: SBS mini-sub seen moored off of Gibraltar. (Mail)

Belize, Brunei, Malaysia

Ongoing training/selection: “Lessons on tradecraft, medical care, and hand-to-hand combat are also included. This segment is run in the hot, dense jungles of Brunei, Belize, or Malaysia.” (Wearethemighty, Ryan, Chris (2009). Fight to Win, p19)

Wales

Brecon Beacons – part of SAS selection. For those unaware, the “Fan Dance” is a 15-mile (24 km) load-bearing March, which takes place at the end of the first week of SF selection. The candidates climb “Pen y Fan” – the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. Then descend the far side; known as “Jacob’s Ladder”. The rest of the route follows the old Roman road before going back on itself for the return leg. Candidates are given 4 hours 10 minutes to complete the route, regardless of the weather. The Fan Dance is the world’s oldest SF test and used as the first major indicator to show if a candidate has the physical and mental aptitude to complete the legendary SF Selection course. (SOF News)

Canada

One training area in Canada used by UKSF (Military Fitness Institute)

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For more reports on this investigation, please see: