UK special forces have carried out secret operations in 19 countries — including eight Arab and three Muslim ones — over the past 12 years, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Based on media leaks, a report by research group Action on Armed Violence lists a range of countries that Britain has sent elite units to since 2011. Operations included hostage rescues, exfiltration, training and protection.
In the Arab world, units were sent to Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Units were also sent to Muslim-majority countries Afghanistan
, Pakistan and Mali.
The Syrian government was a notable target, with units being sent to the country in 2013 to identify possible locations for bombing ahead of a planned aerial campaign that was voted against in the British Parliament.
AOAV said the high-risk missions worldwide were directly ordered by the prime minister or defense secretary, and were kept highly secret.
The report questioned the level of oversight given to the operations. Though acts of war must be approved by the UK Parliament, small-scale special forces operations can be carried out without MPs’ knowledge and are not subject to committee investigations.
In 2015, the SAS had reportedly been given autonomy by then-Prime Minister David Cameron to capture and kill Islamist leaders in the Middle East in the wake of a terror attack in Tunisia that killed 30 Britons in a hotel.
Earlier this year, UK special forces were the subject of scrutiny after a public inquiry found that units had carried out more than 50 summary executions of alleged Taliban members in Afghanistan
between 2010 and 2011.
AOAV Executive Director Iain Overton said: “The extensive deployment of Britain’s special forces in numerous countries over the past decade raises serious concerns about transparency and democratic oversight.
“The lack of parliamentary approval and retrospective reviews for these missions is deeply troubling.”
According to AOAV, after the outbreak of violence in Sudan last month UK special forces oversaw the evacuation of a small group of British diplomats and their families from Khartoum, transporting them to an airbase north of the capital.
In a trend that AOAV noted is designed to protect the secrecy of elite operations, credit was given to the Parachute regiment, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, with no special forces units having been identified for their involvement.
In papers leaked earlier this year, it was also revealed that about 50 special forces members were present in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
In response to the AOAV report, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “It is the longstanding policy of successive governments not to comment on UK special forces.”