SAS comes out fighting as details of top-secret missions are exposed

Senior officer banned from elite unit's HQ over tell-all book, while its commander takes aim at US general for breaking code of silence on operations

Britain's elite fighting force, the SAS, has become enmeshed in controversy and recriminations, with one of its most successful former senior officers being banned from headquarters and its current chief engaged in a dispute with the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The Independent has learned that General Stanley McChrystal, leading Western troops in the war against the Taliban, has received a complaint from the UK's Director of Special Forces (DSF) after he broke the SAS's code of silence and spoke about the missions mounted by the SAS and their Royal Marines equivalent, the SBS, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, who led the SAS during the Iraq war in undercover operations run by General McChrystal, has been told to stay away from the regiment's headquarters in Hereford.

The controversy comes at a time when General Sir David Richards, the head of the British Army, has asked the DSF, a Major-General who cannot be named for security reasons, to consider whether there should be greater transparency about the actions of his troops now carrying out vital missions in Afghanistan.

The regiment, however, is engaged in an internal inquest about past and current members who helped in writing a book about the Iraq mission. In a fallout from this, Colonel Williams, credited with playing a key role in the special forces operations in Iraq that led to the deaths or capture of around 3,500 insurgents, has been told to stay away from headquarters.

Colonel Williams, a highly decorated soldier, had enthusiastically backed General McChrystal's stance during the Iraq war, that rather than hunt for Saddam Hussein's mythical WMD arsenal and track down ageing Ba'athists, the Coalition special forces should concentrate on al-Qa'ida, whose members had come into the country in the wake of the US-led invasion.

The SAS has, in the past, proved to be unforgiving towards those who it considers to have broken the code of "omerta" (vow of silence) about its activities. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, the commander of British forces in the first Gulf War, and a former DSF, also became persona non grata in Hereford after including a chapter in his memoirs about special forces operations.

Colonel Williams, who unexpectedly left the Army when, it was felt, he was heading for the very top, has refused to comment about his banishment. But he is believed to have strenuously denied that he was a source for the Iraq book, written by Mark Urban, the defence and diplomatic editor of the BBC.

Prior to publication, lawyers representing Urban and the Ministry of Defence had been in negotiations for months over what can appear in the book without compromising national security.

The DSF and some of his senior colleagues are said to have been adamant that information about operations contained in the manuscript would be damaging for future missions, and fought a long rearguard action to keep out as many of the details as possible.

The book, which was published last February, reveals the identities of some special forces' personnel while protecting those of others.

Friends of Colonel Williams point out that his name was among those the MoD chose not to ask to be changed in the published version, thus leaving him and others open to unfair accusations of collusion with the author.

But it is the rift with General McChrystal, the high-profile commander tasked by US President Barack Obama to turn the tide of the Taliban insurgency, which is causing the most concern in the defence field on both sides of the Atlantic. The American commander incurred the displeasure of the DSF by giving a newspaper interview in which he was effusive in his praise of the UK special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British Major-General apparently felt that General McChrystal had no business talking about the activities of British troops.

The DSF's complaint, according to American sources, had "surprised and bemused" General McChrystal, who stood up for British forces against criticism by some US officers in Baghdad during the Iraq conflict. Such was the esteem in which he was held that General McChrystal was asked to address a gathering of British special forces following a service of thanksgiving at Hereford at the end of the Iraq mission – which he insisted in doing, during a particularly busy time in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal has also sought out and appointed Major-General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former director of special forces himself, who he had worked with in Baghdad, to head the programme to win over insurgent fighters in Afghanistan – a key part of the West's exit strategy from the war.

It was a role that General Lamb had fulfilled in the Iraq campaign, leading to the so-called "Sunni awakening" in which Iraqi nationalist fighters turned their guns against al-Qa'ida. General Lamb's name also appears in Urban's book although he does not, it is believed, face sanctions from the DSF.

The thanksgiving service that General McChrystal attended was a poignant and evocative occasion, with the rendition of two pieces of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, adopted by the SAS, who call themselves "pilgrims", as their battle hymn.

The hymn, which ends, "He will not fear what men say, he will labour night and day, to be a pilgrim", was roared out by the special forces veterans at Hereford Cathedral.

One senior officer present there said yesterday: "In fact, they do care an awful lot about 'what men say'. For men so tough the SAS seem to be remarkably sensitive. One questions the wisdom of telling off Stan McChrystal, who has been a good friend of the British; and banning Richard Williams on unproven suspicion is pretty harsh."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
people
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Engineer

£28000 - £34000 per annum + excellent bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: In...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor