Brits gut special ops leadership

Independent on Sunday:

Britain's special forces have been dealt a devastating blow that has seen the number of elite Special Air Service (SAS) personnel on active duty slashed.

The move was condemned last night by leading SAS figures as "madness" which will result in the loss of some of the country's most experienced and senior special forces personnel.

The dozens of soldiers axed – who were informed last week – include some of the SAS's best men, whose efforts have been crucial in a series of successful missions to kill or capture senior Taliban commanders in Afghanistan.

This follows a decision by Whitehall officials to end a practice called "continuance", which allows special forces soldiers to serve up to the age of 45 – five years longer than their regular Army counterparts. As a result almost 40 men – the equivalent of half of one of the regiment's four squadrons – were informed last week that they will be forced to retire.

The move has provoked fury within the SAS. One regimental insider, speaking to The Independent on Sunday last night, slammed the decision as "madness" and said: "This is the work of bean counters who know nothing about military operations. It has hugely damaged morale within the regiment."

It is understood that the cut was decided several months ago, by the former government, and is not part of the current defence review, which in itself could result in further cutbacks. "I'd be astonished if Liam Fox [the Secretary of State for Defence] is even aware of this, given what he has said about not reducing the effectiveness of the Army or resorting to salami slicing of budgets. This isn't about getting rid of dead wood, it's quite the opposite – these are the very people who really know how it works. How it is that senior NCOs who are counter-insurgency experts cannot be regarded as essential is beyond most military people," the insider added.

Former SAS officer Colonel Clive Fairweather condemned the move as a "clever dick idea" and said: "I'd hang on to the special forces, to every bit of experience they've got, even if they are grey-haired, old dogs – it's what's in their heads that's important. I would really fight hard to keep those guys."

If the Brits need to make some cuts it should be to their welfare programs and their rationed health care service. These cuts are a mistake and will lessen the effectiveness of some of their best units who have become an important part of our efforts to defeat the Taliban. I suspect these guys can probably get a job with Xe.


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