SBS in Iraq

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Shake-up in Special Boat Service over claims it 'panicked and fled' in Iraq

By Thomas Harding
Published: 12:05AM BST 26 Jul 2004

The Special Boat Service faces substantial restructuring after criticism of its performance in Iraq, with one senior SAS soldier refusing to work with the unit again because its members were "unprofessional".

The Army has transferred a number of instructors from the SAS headquarters in Hereford to the SBS to improve its fighting skills and abilities at operating behind enemy lines.

While the SBS is expert at operations at sea or close to the shore, there have been mutterings that it runs into problems in land patrols.

For the past decade sailors and marines wishing to enter the elite unit have had to pass the tough Special Air Service selection course but do not go on to the even more challenging "continuation" course in the jungle.

Instead they become highly trained in covert insertion by water, securing beachheads and protecting oil rigs and in specialised counter-terrorism to protect shipping.

Both units come under the control of the Director of Special Forces, an Army brigadier, with the SBS being deployed alongside its SAS colleagues on land since the mid-1990s.

This, according to several SAS sources, has led to problems that culminated in a debacle last April during the Iraq war in which the Iraqi Republican Guard compromised an SBS patrol.

"For the first time, they came under effective enemy fire," said a military source. "People were not impressed with their reactions. They were not at all impressed by them leaving behind their Land Rovers and kit."

According to one report, the soldiers failed to return fire and abandoned expensive equipment including their prized "Pinky" Land Rovers which were captured by the Iraqis and gleefully paraded on Arab television, much to the disgust of the SAS.

Two of the 10-man patrol had to march into Syria after missing a pick-up by Chinook helicopter at the emergency rendezvous.

"They cocked it up, panicked and did a runner," said an SAS man. "In that situation you are supposed to do a tactical withdrawal."

A senior NCO in the SAS was so unimpressed by his SBS colleagues that he has refused to serve with them in future operations because of their alleged lack of professionalism.

The comments were made earlier this year at the annual special forces debrief when all the troops make suggestions or criticisms of performances on operations.

"He stood up and said we will never work with these people again - they are totally unprofessional," said a former SAS soldier who served for nine years in the regiment.

"When an SBS representative gave their version of events in Iraq, it was interpreted as a crock of s***."

Senior military planners have now ordered a shake-up of the SBS. An Army source said: "They are going to be 'infiltrated' by Hereford to brush up on their skills, especially in close-quarter combat.

"They are far too specialised. They are great at infiltrating from water on to land but after that it gets a bit problematic."

Rivalry between the regiments developed when the SAS believed that the SBS, nicknamed the Shaky Boats, were intruding on its remit.

It is thought that the SBS has been lobbying to be granted a "30km insertion capability" that would give it access to highly sophisticated equipment.

It was also said to be after the SAS's jealously guarded "team tasks" in which they go abroad to train foreign special forces.

A former SAS soldier said: "They are expert at water ops but there is a substantial difference between land soldiering and swimming. We don't class them as soldiers, more as sailors. The SBS would hit the beach and secure it so we could go through to the business on land.

"They are like a fish out of water on land, if you'll excuse the pun. It's a different mentality. We carry everything everywhere we go; all they do is swim."

It is also believed that the SBS lacks the "close-quarter combat" experience of the SAS because it has had little experience of combat operations over the past decade.

"A lot of the regiment has seen a lot of action, with the SAS or with their own battalions, but this is sometimes not the case with the Shakies," said the SAS soldier. It has been discussed that the regiments should be amalgamated but this has been vigorously opposed by both sides.

• A special forces unit is to be formed specifically to infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups. Working closely with both the SAS and SBS, it will penetrate and gather intelligence on al-Qa'eda activists and supporters.

It will draw on expertise developed by the Joint Communications Unit Northern Ireland in combating the IRA.

Sounds like the SBS guys should have destroyed their equipment, but it also sounds like the SAS guys are using it as a way to talk shit considering the SBS was taking on a mission the Regiment was usually responsible for. :2c:


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
Ok, i'm no Secret Squirrel but saing that SBS isn't handling it self on land is like saing that SEALs suck when they are out of the H20 element...

Just look at the units (SBS) history ranging from the Falklands to Iraq in 1990, Afghanistan when they were involved in the hunt for UBL and so on.


Ok, i'm no Secret Squirrel but saing that SBS isn't handling it self on land is like saing that SEALs suck when they are out of the H20 element...

Just look at the units (SBS) history ranging from the Falklands to Iraq in 1990, Afghanistan when they were involved in the hunt for UBL and so on.

Oh I agree. I thought the article was interesting though. I don't agree with the SAS but I wasn't there and I'm not an operator so.... Can't judge either way.
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