UK special forces involved in covert operations in 19 countries
A report by Action on Armed Violence, a UK-based research charity, details the various secretive actions of UK special forces that have been noted in media leaks around the world.
British special forces including the Special Air Service (SAS) have operated in at least 19 different countries over the last 12 years, a report by Action on Armed Violence revealed.
The UK special forces have been active in Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Russia, among other nations around the globe, as their secret operations are not publicly disclosed by the government's ministers.
The group collected a list of the special forces' operations by examining media leaks that detail some of their activities.
The report revealed the role of the SAS, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiments in espionage and high-risk missions ordered by British prime ministers and defense secretaries in areas that the country is not at war with.
The main activity highlighted was centered in Syria, as the report showed multiple events in which forces were deployed to aid militant groups against the country's legitimate government since 2012, as well as bombing missions in 2013 which the UK parliament eventually voted against.
In 2018, Matt Tonroe, a member of the SAS, was killed via an improvised explosive device in Syria and was officially reported as a soldier of the Parachute regiment in an attempt to disguise special forces activities in the area.
Only later was it revealed that Tonroe died after a grenade carried by a US soldier detonated in the vicinity.
Earlier, the Pentagon leaks showed that while the US and France had 14 and 15 members respectively present in Ukraine, 50 UK special force members were there although Britain is not formally party to the conflict, which is evidence of the covert operations undertaken by the UK, US, and France to aid Kiev in its war with Moscow.
The UK secret services benefit from a legal loophole — as the House of Commons has to approve the deployment of UK regular troops while special forces can commence operation without approval — that allows for a lack of oversite over their activities, Action on Armed Violence reported.
In 2015, an attack on a beach hotel in Tunisia killed 38 people, including 30 British nationals. At the time, Prime Minister David Cameron gave the SAS a "carte blanche" to kill or capture Islamist leaders in the MENA region.
"The extensive deployment of Britain’s Special Forces in numerous countries over the past decade raises serious concerns about transparency and democratic oversight," Iain Overton, the executive director of the research charity.
Overton highlighted "the lack of parliamentary approval and retrospective reviews for these missions," which is "deeply troubling".
A public inquiry was launched earlier in March to investigate allegations that the SAS killed 54 civilians in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011. The issue involves night raids in which men were repeatedly shot after getting separated from their families with SAS forces claiming that they had weapons in their possession.
The UK government concealed the involvement of special forces in the evacuation of British diplomats from Khartoum, Sudan, where reports made to the public only discuss the involvement of members of the Parachute regiment, the Royal Marine, and the Royal Armed Forces.
The report also discloses the involvement of SAS soldiers who were sent to "protect" British athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The full list of countries also includes Algeria, Estonia, France, Oman, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Cyprus, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It was sent to the Ministry of Defense, although the Ministry routinely says it does not comment on the activity of special forces.
An MoD spokesperson said, “It is the longstanding policy of successive governments not to comment on UK Special Forces.”