• New special forces regiment created to combat international terrorism
• Special Reconnaissance Regiment operational as of today
• 300-400 people to be recruited from existing services
"This regiment will provide improved support to expeditionary operations overseas and form part of the defence contribution to the government’s comprehensive strategy to counter international terrorism." - GEOFF HOON, DEFENCE SECRETARY
Story in full BRITAIN will today get its first new special forces regiment since the 1950s, with a brief to carry out covert operations against terrorists around the world.
The Special Reconnaissance Regiment is expected to play a key role in hunting down insurgents in Iraq and in the forthcoming UK-led operation against al-Qaeda remnants - including Osama bin Laden - in Afghanistan.
Members will be expected to infiltrate terrorist organisations and identify targets to be attacked by other units.
The SRR joins the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service in the UK special forces group at a time when other parts of the armed forces, including the Scottish infantry regiments, are suffering swingeing cutbacks.
Operational from today, the new 300 to 400-strong regiment will draw on existing forces for its members and can recruit from all three services.
Some posts will be open to women.
Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said that the regiment had been formed "to meet a growing worldwide demand for special reconnaissance capability".
He said: "This regiment will provide improved support to expeditionary operations overseas and form part of the defence contribution to the government’s comprehensive strategy to counter international terrorism."
Mr Hoon said the SRR would begin collecting covert intelligence on threats to British interests around the world.
The new regiment is in addition to the so-called Ranger battalion, which is being formed out of the Parachute regiment, and is part of a major enhancement of the UK’s special forces group launched in 2002 by the British government.
It is the first time Britain has formed a regimental-sized special forces unit since the late 1950s, when the SAS was expanded and two regiments were established as part of the reserve Territorial Army.
Military sources said it would draw heavily on the British army’s experience of conducting covert intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland.
"We want to place electronic ‘bugs’ close to terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden and have agents within the ranks of global terrorist groups," said one army officer. "We got very good at doing this in Northern Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, and now we want to transfer this capability to the global war on terrorism."
He added: "With terrorist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, the only way to get a handle on what they are doing is by having high quality intelligence gathering capabilities that get really close to them.
"The new SRR gives us that capability and it is going be one of the most active units in the British armed forces over the next couple of years."
Once SRR surveillance teams have identified human targets, other units will then eliminate them. It is understood that the new regiment will be based alongside the SAS at Stirling Lines barracks, near Hereford.
Although the early phases of training will be based on the SAS selection process, the main training will be very different.
Arabic and other Middle East language skills are a top requirement for the recruits, allowing them to blend into Islamic societies on undercover operations.