British special forces in Syria ‘frontline ops’

British special forces based in Jordan frequently cross into Syria to assist the New Syrian Army (NSA) that has been fighting the ISIS. (Photo courtesy: UK MOD)

British special forces are involved in frontline operations fighting ISIS in Syria, according to rebel commanders.

Military commanders told British-daily The Times that the special forces were defending a rebel unit that has been under daily attack by ISIS, marking the operation as the first evidence of Britain’s direct involvement in the war-torn country.

According to the report, British special forces based in Jordan frequently cross into Syria to assist the New Syrian Army (NSA), a group that Western governments deem as moderate, that has been fighting the ISIS militant group in the southeastern village of al-Tanf.

NSA First Lieutenant Mahmoud al-Saleh told The Times that his group had a steady partnership with the British special forces, who helped them with logistics and the setting up of defenses.

“They [ISIS] attack us at all times, 3am, 5am, 4pm, 11pm. If you look at the timing of the assaults it’s clear they don’t want us to get any rest.”

Last month, ISIS deployed a car bomb at the NSA base, killing 11 and injuring 17. The suicide attack damaged the structure of the base and, according to the report, British troops crossed from Jordan to help them to rebuild their defenses.

Saleh explained that ISIS regularly pounds their base with waves of suicide bombers, missiles and mortars.

The rebel unit, made up of former Syrian special forces units who defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s army, was retrained by Western powers including the US and UK in the neighboring ally Jordan.

In 2013, the UK’s parliament went against Prime Minister David Cameron and voted against direct British intervention in Syria. However, unlike regular troops, the deployment of special forces units does not require parliamentary approval.

Chris Doyle, Director of Council for Arab-British Understanding told Al Arabiya English this has increasingly becoming an issue within Britain’s parliament because it doesn’t allow for parliamentary scrutiny.

“There are some politicians that feel this is a device to try to bypass parliament so that there is military action of some sort that can take place within these countries that - one assumes - against ISIS,” Doyle said.

The NSA, one of many rebel units in Syria, had completed a training course in Jordan as part of the Pentagon’s $500 million effort to train and equip a force of Syrian rebels to take on ISIS, which was conceived by the White House two years ago.

However according to a report by Reuters, this would not be the first time British special forces entered Syria, as a 2012 report by Israeli-based website Debkha suggested that British units had entered Syrian territory, presumably alongside rebel forces.

Doyle, the advocacy group chief, explained that the in term of the Middle East and domestic security, the primary issue is ISIS - not resolving the conflict in Syria.

Yet added that “resolving the crisis in Syria is actually a critical element to ultimately defeating ISIS.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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