Two Special Air Service (SAS) operators were wounded by an IED during a recent clandestine operation inside Yemen.
The two SAS troopers are part of a joint U.S-U.K. special operations team conducting reconnaissance for ideal drop-zones in case the West decided to provide much-needed humanitarian aid to the challenged Yemenis. However, the SAS operators weren’t from the 22 SAS Regiment—the active duty unit—but rather from the 21 SAS, which is a Territorial Army unit.
According to reports, the joint SOF team was inserted into the country by a United Arab Emirates (UAE) C-47 Chinook helicopter and linked up with UAE forces on the ground near the town of Marib, which is controlled by the Sunni Yemeni government. They were provided with civilian pickup trucks to conduct their mission without arousing suspicion. While surveying the land for potential drop zones, one of team’s pickup trucks struck an IED, wounding the two SAS operators. A medevac chopper flew them to the U.S. base in Djibouti; they were subsequently flown to Royal Air Force Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Such an operation would be in accordance with the diplomatic initiative of the British Foreign Office. In late January 2019, the British government announced a $3 million aid package in an attempt to salvage a ceasefire into the port city of Hodeida. The British diplomats and their United Nations (U.N.) colleagues believe if they can maintain peace in Hodeida, other parts of war-torn Yemen will follow suit. The aid package is aimed at assisting the civilian administration with city management, demining operations, and the creation of a local law enforcement presence.
“At a meeting of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee, chaired by General Lollesgaard, the parties agreed to an initial redeployment of forces,” stated a press release by the British Foreign Office. “This encouraging progress represents a significant step forward in the political process. But more careful work remains to be done. The U.K. urges all parties to continue to work with the U.N. Special Envoy to rapidly finalize and implement the agreed plan. It is also vital that parties facilitate the full deployment of the ‘U.N. Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement’ to help implement these agreements and engage constructively in discussions towards agreeing a prisoner exchange, another key measure that will help build confidence.”
However, reports of SAS troops on the ground conducting operations that are contrary to the objectives of the Sunni Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia, its main backer, could derail the ceasefire negotiations. That’s the reason for a cloud of secrecy around the joint U.S.-U.K mission. It’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia is primarily responsible for using a blockade to limit food and medical supplies in the country.
There are two SAS Territorial units: the 21 SAS and 23 SAS. They’re staffed by civilian volunteers who completed SAS selection and training. Although their senior officers and non-commissioned officers come from the active-duty 22 SAS, they’re independent units that specialize in Special Reconnaissance and Foreign Internal Defense missions. However, on some occasions, individual territorial SAS operators will augment their active-duty counterparts. When they do so, they get assigned to L Detachment SAS, previously known as R Squadron, which is directly attached to 22 SAS. The Territorial SAS showed its mettle during the terrorist incident in Nairobi, Kenya when a 21 SAS operator single-handedly stopped a terrorist attack.
The civil war in Yemen began in 2015. In summary, the Shia Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, are fighting against the Sunni Yemeni government, which is supported by a coalition of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They’ve also received intelligence and logistical support from U.S military and intelligence agencies. With or without conflict, Yemen is an extremely poor country. However, the civil war compounded the difficulties to create a humanitarian crisis, with almost eight million people on the verge of starvation.