Skip to main content

British special forces photographed for first time in Syria

British special forces were photographed with heavy weaponry and operating military vehicles near the Syria-Iraq border
British special forces photographed in Syria aiding rebel groups against the Islamic State (Screengrab)

British special forces have been photographed for the first time operating in war-torn Syria, where they are providing military support to western-backed rebel groups battling the Islamic State group.

The BBC published the photographs on Monday. They were taken in June after an IS attack near al-Tanaf on the Syria-Iraq border, where the British special forces are supporting the New Syrian Army (NSA).

The photographs show around a dozen British commandos operating heavy machinery and military vehicles, which BBC correspondent Quentin Somerville said was part of an operation to push back IS from NSA controlled territory.

British special forces operate beyond the oversight of parliament, and their operations do not need to be approved by MPs. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently told MEE he believes special forces’ operations should be overseen by parliament.

The NSA is not only supported by Britain but it has received training, weapons and equipment from the United States, as well as being backed by air strikes from the American-led anti-IS military coalition.

British Special Forces pictured in Syria (Screengrab)

Eyewitnesses told the BBC the British special forces who were photographed had been operating in a “defensive capacity” and had helped secure the base after an IS attack killed several NSA fighters.

IS has also released footage recently of western special forces providing support to the NSA. After the NSA failed to win control of a key IS trading route on the Syria-Iraq border, IS published a video that showed NSA fighters being trained by western special forces.

The Ministry of Defence has refused to comment on special forces operations in Syria – or elsewhere in the region.

MEE reported in March that Britain had assessed Jordanian special forces before they entered Syria, and that British special forces were already operating in Libya – where IS has emerged amid the chaos of an ongoing civil war.

British Special Forces shown in Syria where they have been supporting rebel groups (Screengrab)

In June MEE contributor Sara Elizabeth Williams reported for The Times that British special forces were operating alongside Syrian rebels near the Jordanian border to fight off IS attacks.

Williams said British special forces were based alongside American special forces in "add-on American facilities" adjacent to a Jordanian military base near where the Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian borders meet.

"There are drones and various other things up there that the military don’t want in the public sphere," Williams said.

Williams said she could hear English being spoken in the background while interviewing rebels at the base.

Asked how she knew the special forces soldiers at the al-Tanf base were British, Williams said that a Syrian rebel fighter had replied: "Because they trained us, and because they introduced themselves as British special forces."