The secrecy around the UK’s special forces could be coming to an end as political pressure mounts for more scrutiny on military operations.
Questions in Parliament about special forces, including the SAS, are usually dodged by the Ministry of Defence, despite the secretive soldiers having an established presence in conflict zones.
MP Crispin Blunt has led the calls for more transparency, as special forces have been used increasingly in conflict zones around the world, including Iraq and Syria.
Expressing his views at a meeting for the Oxford Research Group, the Conservative MP said “there is a gaping hole in parliamentary oversight” when it comes to the special forces.
More pressure for some sort of political accountabilty for UKSF. The war powers convention (such as it is) has given the Govt an incentive to make more use of SF, and it has done so. https://t.co/FHCIXGIXSY
— Paul F Scott (@PaulFScott) April 24, 2018
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former defence and foreign secretary, expressed a similar view and said that if similarly secretive agencies such as MI5 and MI6 could face oversight, then so could the special forces.
A report compiled from the meeting suggests a more transparent approach to operations could also protect the defense force from claims made against it “on the basis of bogus charges.”
The report states “a total of 3,300 allegations of abuses committed by British military personnel in Iraq were received by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). But the IHAT staff were challenged by the HCDC, among others, for reports claiming that law firms had been ‘cashing in’.”
External scrutiny could help to ensure that litigation remains a tool for genuine accountability, the report suggests.
Titled ‘Britain’s Shadow Army: Policy Options for External Oversight of UK Special Forces,’ the report was made publicly available on Wednesday and suggests the UK was out of line with other countries.
Authors Liam Walpole and Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen said allies such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, and even the US subject their forces to democratic scrutiny.
“Our research shows that Britain is alone among its allies in not permitting any discussion of the staffing, funding and the strategy surrounding the use of its special forces,” the report states.
“While there remain many good reasons for the tactical secrecy of UKSF [UK special forces] activities, there appear to be fewer good reasons for the complete opacity that currently surrounds them.”
Britain’s special forces were founded during the Second World War and today comprise five units – the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), Special Forces Support Group (SFSG), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) and 18 (UKSF) Signals Regiment.
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