An unwelcome avalanche of fame has fallen on the lone Special Air Service (SAS) member who responded to last Tuesday’s terrorist attack in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. News outlets around the world have speculated about his identity and outfit. At first, he was a Navy SEAL from SEAL Team 3 because he wore a Velcro patch that ST3 SEALs have been seen wearing. But then – more accurately – he became an active-duty SAS operator. According to a SOFREP source, however, the SAS trooper is, in fact, part of the British Territorial Army SAS – that is, the reserve component of the famed Special Operations unit.
The 21 SAS and 23 SAS Regiments are manned by civilian volunteers who have undergone SAS selection and training. They are independent units with senior officers and non-commissioned officers coming from the active-duty 22 SAS. Traditionally, the territorial SAS have conducted Special Reconnaissance (SR) and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions. Sometimes, however, individual territorial SAS operators have augmented their active-duty counterparts. These are part of L Detachment SAS, previously known as R Squadron, which is directly attached to 22 SAS.
The two units had been part of the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) since its inception in the 1980s. However, a recent organizational restructure of the British Army brought them under the wing of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Brigade in 2014. Still a SOF unit, they now focus more on SR and Human Environment Reconnaissance and Analysis (HERA) operations. Alongside these skill sets, they also conduct FID and advice and training missions.
The SAS trooper who single-handedly stormed the DusitD2 hotel was in Kenya, advising and training the local police and military counter-terrorist units. On a side note, during the terrorist attack, he was off-duty.
The Territorial SAS Regiments have been mobilized for all the major conflicts in recent British history, including Northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Interestingly, a few years ago, the units were almost disbanded for not having a clear objective. However, prudence prevailed, and they dodged the chopping block but got transferred to the 1st ISR Brigade.
Moreover, the unnamed operator has been nominated for the George’s Cross, the second-highest award for valor in the British honors system and second only to the Victoria Cross, which is the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor.
The attack on the luxury hotel by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, left 21 people dead, including an American, and dozens wounded.