Special Operations: British Rangers Return


May 10, 2021: Britain is expanding the tasks its special operations forces carry out. For example, more will be assigned to work more closely and frequently with MI6 (foreign intelligence, like the CIA). The expansion will also include creating a Special Operations Brigade containing four battalions of Rangers, similar in training and function to the American Ranger Regiment.

The original rangers, after which the American rangers are named, were actually a British unit. The first rangers were long range scouts, or ranging men and the most experienced practitioners were American colonists before and after the revolution. One group, led by American Major Robert Rogers, who grew up in the American colonies, developed ranger tactics while fighting foreign and Indian threats during several European wars that spread to North America. When the American Revolution came along (1776), the rangers fought for the British, not against them (as one of many loyalist units) because Rogers was mistrusted by senior rebel leaders. The British were impressed by the effectiveness of ranger tactics, which Rogers put in print. Some British units adopted the ranger name, but true ranger tactics were secondary to training for fighting more conventional foes.

The rangers as specialist units were revived during World War II as American versions of the British commandoes. However, the American rangers, while they had some successes, did not do well enough to be kept on after World War II. They were revived during the Korean war as long range scouts and commandos, but then disbanded. Same thing was going to happen during and after the Vietnam war. But instead, in 1974, the first battalion of modern (as they are now) rangers were created. The American rangers came full circle, beginning in British service, and now returning to British service. The United States has three battalions of rangers belonging to the 75th Ranger Regiment. This was formed in the 1980s.

The British army always had officers who advocated establishing units of “ranging men” and some such units were informally established in the many new colonies Britain established. In 2004 Britain planned to use one of its paratrooper battalions and retrain them as rangers. This plan was not carried through as the paratroopers already performed many ranger functions. But the British have noted the success the Americans have had with the ranger concept, and how other countries had successfully adopted the concept. One of the more successful of these are the Filipino Scout Rangers, who regularly rank near top during international special operations competitions.

The new British Special Operations Brigade is intended to support the SAS (Special Air Service), one of the British World War II commando units that established the standards for current elite special operations troops. Under the new reorganization SAS will spend more time working with MI6 operatives in covert operations worldwide. These this will make possible a new campaign to disrupt Russian, Iranian, North Korean and Chinese use of special operations forces, often not wearing uniforms, to carry out disruptive operations.

Some of these operations will be in Britain itself, where, since the 1990s, Russian special operations agents were found to be carrying out recent espionage and assassination operations against targets inside Britain. Iran has been doing the same thing in Europe and other parts of the world. This is a capability showing up with more frequency and using SAS/MI6 teams to detect and thwart such attacks is seen as a solution. This approach had already been adopted by the Americans several decades ago when they successfully used army Special Forces troops in plain clothes to augment overseas CIA operations.

One reason for assigning SAS to MI6 is to keep their work secret and immune from lawsuits. After 2003 British special operations troops were often accused of war crimes and sued in British courts. An extensive investigation, costing $40 million and taking years, discovered that all these lawsuits were scams by Iraqis and Afghans trying to con foreign troops out of more “compensation” for false claims. This often worked in Afghanistan until the Americans investigated and confirmed local rumors that these were all scams often exploited by the locals because they could.

While British commandos have to worry about getting sued or prosecuted, MI6 operatives have a degree of legal cover for its operations. Under the Intelligence Services Act of 1994, MI6 officers have immunity from prosecution for real or invented crimes committed outside Great Britain. The Criminal Justice Bill of 1998 made it illegal for any organization in Great Britain to conspire to commit offenses abroad, but Crown agents have immunity. Which means, in effect, that yes, Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service really is licensed to kill. Another advantage of MI6 is that they have always had some SAS commandos trained to work with MI6 and were always available for any MI6 needs. This commando organization was called Increment and was used for assassinations, sabotage or other dangerous jobs, like arresting war criminals in the Balkans. In addition, every station chief has a direct line to SAS headquarters and a good working relationship with the commandos. These days if British commandos want to do what they were trained for they have to hope for a call from MI6.

The Royal Navy is also taking part in this new strategy, with a new (in 2024) MROSS (Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship) that can detect tampering with undersea digital data cables that have long been vulnerable to taps or, more recently, being deliberately cut to disrupt Internet service. In some parts of the world, the main access to the Internet is via one or more of these undersea cables. These taps are often installed by naval special operations troops travelling in subs.


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