Special Forces and Transparency: UK

The SAS, rarely viewed publicly as they were during the Iranian embassy seige, was used to rescue oil workers from Libya at the weekend. The letters SAS conjure up exotic, dangerous, and covert operations. This week the media had every reason to highlight the role played by Britain’s special forces in supporting the missions by RAF Hercules aircraft to evacuate oil workers stranded deep in the Libyan desert. ..The missions were meticulously planned and when there is no reliable or up-to-date intelligence, it is better to take precautions, defence officials say. And for the government it was a hugely welcome distraction from the criticism of delay and muddle over its initial handling of the crisis. Yet officially the Ministry of Defence has a policy of never commenting on the operations of Britain’s special forces…This time the MoD was allowed to confirm that special forces were “supporting” the RAF operations, but nothing else. …The official policy that operations involving the special forces can never be revealed and is more honoured in the breach than the observance. Special forces commanders might want to maintain the mystique and mythology covering their operations, but the troops themselves want “successes” to be publicly recognised. And the policy of never officially commenting on such operations cannot continue. Special forces, like armed but unmanned drones, are being used increasingly in the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and in the borderlands of Pakistan – and are likely to in future counter-terrorist operations. Their involvement must be more transparent, and the troops involved in them more accountable, at least to ministers. Otherwise we could unknowingly be conniving in dirty tricks and assassinations, and in operations that might, when found out, be counter-productive and extremely damaging to British interests.

Excerpt,Richard Norton-Taylor, End this official silence on the SAS, Guardian, February 28, 2011

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