Infantry: October 6, 2003


For several years, there has been something of a civil war going on inside Britain's SAS (Special Air Service). There are several disputes over how the SAS should operate and how it should be run. For example, when the SAS went in to Afghanistan, they were prepared to operate in large groups for particularly difficult operations. There were at least three of these, each involving about a hundred SAS troopers. While these attacks were successful, some SAS members felt they would have been more useful operating in smaller groups, doing the traditional SAS jobs of reconnaissance, sabotage and information gathering raids. It was felt that Royal Marine Commandos or paratroopers could handle the larger scale combat. There has also been some feeling that the SBS (Special Boat Squadron), which has stuck with small scale operations, is the better for it. The SBS, formed from SAS members during World War II, is the British equivalent of the U.S. SEALS. Both SAS and SBS are small organizations. SAS has only about 200 "operators" (actual commandos), the SBS only about 120. The SBS has something of an advantage in that they tend to recruit mainly from the Royal Marine Commandos, who maintain a higher level of selection and training than the British army (from which the SAS tends to recruit.) 

There are also some SAS customs that some SAS officers would like to change. One in particular is the use of SAS NCOs to approve of officers wanting to join the SAS. Many officers want to keep this custom, but some do not. 

The SAS are the original modern commandos, and the first ones were members of British Commando units in North Africa. The SAS ideas evolved out of the Long Range Desert Patrol (LRDP), that was created in North Africa during World War II to perform long range patrols in the desert. The LRDP was, in effect, the first modern LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) force. The LRDP served as something as a special operations laboratory, with several other commando type outfits forming from it (like Popski's Private Army, something of a super-LRRP outfit that later fought in Italy and led the way into Austria.) The SAS was disbanded after World War II, but brought back in the early 1950s as Britain saw the need for commandos as it fought communist guerillas in Malaysia. Since then, SAS and SBS has served all over the world, performing jobs that require a few good men (or women, which the SAS would like to recruit a few of). SAS has also performed undercover for MI-6 (the British version of the CIA.) 

As an elite organization, the SAS is full of people constantly looking for ways to improve how they operate. One thing SAS members have noted is the proliferation of SAS-like organizations around the world. Many of these were founded by men who were trained by the SAS. But the SAS has also noted the success of the American Special Forces. The Special Forces are unique in the special operations world because of their emphasis on foreign languages and studying foreign cultures. The SAS has always done some of this, but now the "think small" want more of it, and more work with MI-6.


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