New role for British Special Forces to counter state actors

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British special forces are hoping to be given a new remit to counter Russia and other state actors as secret missions against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq become less necessary.

British special operations forces are lobbying their government for a new role. The Director of Special Forces (SDF) is said to have drafted a concept paper that would overhaul Britain’s SOF. The proposal envisions a force more aligned toward intelligence gathering, influence operations, and hybrid warfare rather than raids and counterterrorism.

The idea, first reported by BBC’s Newsnight, has been worked up for ministers and would involve a new focus for the SAS and other parts of the special forces, the most secretive parts of the British military.

The director of special forces has drawn up a plan in confidence named “Special Operations Concept”, which will soon be considered by ministers. If approved the scheme would involve a restructuring of the relevant units.

Underlying the plan is a belief that the nature of modern warfare is changing, with less emphasis on conventional military action and instead a shift towards a more subtle conflict between nation-states.

Two tankers were targeted in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday morning, a sophisticated covert attack that the US blamed on Iran. Tehran denied responsibility and its foreign minister suggested others could be trying to provoke a conflict.

Last week, Gen Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, the chief of general staff, talked about the emerging thinking in British circles, saying that peace and war were “two increasingly redundant states”.

Over the last decade and a half, British special forces have been active on covert missions in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But with Isis losing the last of its territory in March, the military believe it is time to move on.