Details have emerged of how US and UK Special Forces clashed and drifted apart over the conduct of the Iraq occupation, with one British officer complaining about the use of tactics more akin to “Latin American-style” death squads than a modern military.
The details of the Balad special forces base and its operations, which came to shape the war, are not recounted in last week’s long-awaited report by Sir John Chilcot.
However, kill or capture operations in and around Baghdad, launched from the Balad base 50 miles (80km) north of the city, were a key if little known chapter in Britain’s shadow war, the Independent reports.
Despite killing or taking as prisoner up to 3,500 insurgents, the mission against the Sunni insurgency caused deep rifts to the point where a senior commander, himself ex-SAS, demanded to know why the UK Special Forces were “helping to run Latin American-style death squads?”
The mission, under now-famed US General Stanley McChrystal, involved a shift from searching for apparently non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to man-hunting.
Antagonism over the tactics led to UK troops being banned from some operations and a UK SAS commander lodging a complaint with US authorities for talking about British involvement in operations. Another SAS colonel was also ostracized from his regiment after serving under McCrystal.
Chilcot does sketch out some of the details of the growing rift, though his report appears to leave out direct references to Special Forces operations.
“US and UK strategies had, in effect, been on different courses since the UK decision to focus its attention on MND (SE) [Multi-National Division South East, the British run zone] in 2003.
As result of this decision, the UK had acquired distinctly different priorities from the US,” the 2.6-million-word report argues.
It says the UK was then only “marginally …