Covert operatives took part in multiple foreign conflicts without any parliamentary approval or oversight, a newly published study has found
The UK has sent its special forces to 19 countries since 2011, according to a report by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity that conducts research on global armed violence. The deployed British operatives trained foreign militants, carried out assassinations, and reportedly fought alongside child soldiers.
In a report published on Tuesday, AOAV stated that British operatives have been deployed to fight or surveil hostile forces in Algeria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Somalia, the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.
Some of these deployments were into locations in which British troops were already fighting, as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, UK Special Forces (UKSF) continued their operations in both countries long after regular forces withdrew. In Afghanistan, hundreds of civilian deaths were attributed to night raids by British and American special forces between 2009 and 2012.
While parliament authorized military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, UKSF have deployed to other active conflict zones without the assent of lawmakers. Three days before parliament voted against a deployment to Syria in 2013, UKSF and MI6 operatives were on the ground targeting Syrian air defense installations and calling in American airstrikes, the report stated. Within months, they were training anti-government militants while assassinating Islamic State fighters.
In Yemen, UKSF operatives conducted raids on Al Qaeda-linked militants, but, in some cases, fought alongside jihadists who had been recruited by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to attack Houthi rebels. Up to 40% of these jihadi forces, AOAV noted, were child soldiers.
Training missions and hostage rescue operations made up most of the rest of the deployments, while the UKSF operation in Russia focused on providing security for British athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Recently leaked Pentagon documents suggest that the UK has deployed 50 special forces personnel to Ukraine since Russia launched its military operation last February. Prior to the leak, multiple media outlets reported the presence of British and American special forces in Ukraine, while one general told The Times last year that as many as 300 British commandos were conducting "discrete operations" alongside Kiev's forces.
"The extensive deployment of Britain's Special Forces in numerous countries over the past decade raises serious concerns about transparency and democratic oversight," said AOAV Director Iain Overton. "The lack of parliamentary approval and retrospective reviews for these missions is deeply troubling."