Special forces to get boost to fight insurgents

UK 'plays to its strengths' as economic downturn threatens regular troops

Britain's special forces are to be boosted to prepare the country for long wars of insurgency under plans being drawn up in a "major rebalancing" of the military for operations abroad.

The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, will today outline the new strategy which is being drawn up with the Americans to prepare for years of commitment in Afghanistan and the expectation of other similar conflicts.

According to senior defence sources, the severe overstretch in the UK armed forces, along with the economic downturn, means that this country will find it difficult to send substantial numbers of conventional forces in support of the Americans in future conflicts.

This has been highlighted by Gordon Brown's reluctance – despite the British drawdown from Iraq – to agree to the request of UK commanders' to send 2,000 extra troops to join American reinforcements in Helmand. Instead, the Prime Minister is expected to announce that around 750 additional forces will be temporarily deployed for the Afghan elections scheduled for August. In addition, around 300 specialists dealing with bomb disposal will be sent to deal with the rise in roadside explosions and mines.

SAS units are already being moved from Iraq to join the SBS in Afghanistan as part of a US led surge. This followed a specific request from the Americans who have been working closely with UK special forces in the two conflicts. The thinking behind the review, say officials, is that Britain must "play to its strengths" at a time of scarce resources.

But some senior officers fear that the announcement of concentration on special forces is paving the way for cuts in conventional defence expenditure with the two proposed new aircraft carriers and fast jets under threat.

They also hold that the secret nature of much of the work being done by the SAS and SBS mean that British contributions to such operations may not be fully recognised internationally.

The shadow Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, said yesterday: "There's no doubt that Britain's Special Forces are among the world's elite. But any structural alterations to the Armed Forces need to be placed within the context of a full Strategic Defence Review. There is a suspicion that these changes are being driven by the Government's economic incompetence rather than Britain's security needs."

However, Mr Hutton, in a speech today, will say that "deep and wide-ranging changes to our armed forces" are to be implemented after an analysis of the Afghan war initiated by him and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates last month.

Mr Hutton will say: "UK special forces are among the best in the world. Capable, effective, respected and contributing massively to the defeat of al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Speaking of threats posed by insurgents, Mr Hutton will say: "The female suicide bomber; the boy tricked into killing himself and British soldiers by pushing a wheelbarrow of explosives, such threats strike a challenge to the core of how we operate. When British troops are deployed to fight that threat, there is only one outcome we can countenance – winning".

Pointing to a military review the US is carrying out, Mr Hutton will say in his address to the Institute for Public Policy Research: "We need to see a similar readjustment here in the UK in the years ahead – a rebalancing of investment in equipment and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate