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Britain expands military's special forces

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 20 (Reuters) Britain today announced the creation of a new special forces unit in a rare public statement about its legendary cadre of top-secret troops.

The new Special Forces Support Group of secret infantry, drawn from elite paratroops and Royal Marines, will support the famed Special Air Service and Special Boat Service -- the SAS and SBS -- Britain's two main clandestine special forces units.

Another new secret unit, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, was created last year.

''The new Special Forces Support Group will enhance the capability of the UK Special Forces to operate around the world and will provide the UK with an additional counter-terrorist capability,'' Defence Secretary John Reid said in a statement.

They will be based in Wales near Cardiff and train alongside special forces operatives to deploy at short notice. Previously when the SAS and SBS needed extra fire power for secret missions they had to call on paratroops or marines on an adhoc basis.

The public announcement signals a shift in recent months to be more open about Britain's clandestine troops, who have been busier over the past several years than at any time since World War Two, a defence ministry source said.

But the ministry has still allowed a few key details to remain mysterious, such as how big the new units are.

Since the mid-1990s the SAS and SBS have been deployed in Sierra Leone and the Balkans, but their use expanded dramatically after the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As special forces have taken on ever more missions and expanded their capabilities, British authorities have been under some pressure to explain their activities better.

Washington has been comparatively open about describing the activities of its secret warriors, the only troops it had on the ground in the early days of its bombing campaign against Afghanistan in 2001.

London announced plans in 2004 for the new reconnaissance and special infantry units, but until now had not confirmed that the new special infantry existed.

Britons and their media have been fascinated by their country's secret troops since the SAS dramatically stormed the Iranian embassy in London during a hostage crisis in 1980.

Two ex-SAS men went on to become best-selling novelists after publishing separate accounts of a botched patrol behind enemy lines during the Gulf War in 1991. But until the last 18 months or so, the military refused to comment on the SAS or SBS.

REUTERS KD KN2102

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