The Special Forces Support Group or SFSG is a special operations unit of the British Armed Forces. The SFSG is the newest addition to the United Kingdom Special Forces. It was formed officially on 3 April 2006 to support the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service on operations. This could include diversionary tactics, protective cordons and extra fire power. The SFSG was initially composed of personnel from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment, but is now open to all personnel in the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces that have passed either the Pre Parachute Selection course run by the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines Commando Course or the Royal Air Force Pre-Parachute Selection course.
The unit’s creation stems from the need to provide infantry support to the United Kingdom Special Forces, which became evident after the Battle of Tora Bora during which two Special Air Service (SAS) squadrons assaulted the al-Qaeda cave complex. Previously, this support was carried out on an ad hoc basis, with infantry units assisting special forces teams when needed. During Operation Barras in Sierra Leone, soldiers from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment were deployed alongside troops from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and D Squadron SAS. This was successful, as the SAS soldiers attacked the encampment containing the hostages while the soldiers from The Parachute Regiment attacked a second encampment.
In December 2004, it was announced that a unit would be formalised for this role as part of the wider future army structure. It was initially conceived as a battalion of “Rangers”, similar to the United States Army Rangers.
The SFSG’s formation was announced officially by the then Secretary of State for Defence John Reid in Parliament on 20 April 2006. Following the announcement, it was reported that a company of SFSG soldiers was operating in Iraq as part of the US-led Task Force 145.
As of late 2008 SFSG personnel have received two Military Crosses, one Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service, two Mentions in Despatches and 12 Joint Commander’s Commendations. In August 2009, three soldiers from the SFSG were killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol near Lashkar Gar, Southern Afghanistan. A fourth soldier from the same patrol was injured in the explosion. In December 2009, an SFSG soldier was killed as a result of a suspected improvised explosive device in Sangin, Afghanistan.
Formation and selection
The Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces matters, therefore little verifiable information exists in the public domain.
The SFSG was established to support UKSF units in battle overseas and on domestic counter-terrorist operations. For this, it may encompass such roles as providing diversionary attacks, cordons, fire support, force protection, and supporting training tasks.
Most unit personnel are Parachute Regiment soldiers, Royal Marine commandos or RAF Regiment gunners. All those selected for the SFSG have passed either the Pre-Parachute selection course run by The Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines Commando course or the RAF Pre-Parachute selection course. Army personnel can apply to join straight from the Pre-Parachute selection course irrespective of regimental affiliation; prospective recruits from the Royal Marines undergo a selection process run by the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines.
Members continue to wear their own cap badge. In addition, they wear a new shoulder emblem that depicts a silver dagger on a green background, with a red-lined black flash of lightning running through it.
The SFSG comprises four strike companies: A, B, C and F. One Support Company and the Headquarters Company. The SFSG is mainly drawn from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment. The Royal Marines mainly form F Company which specializes in supporting amphibious operations. The RAF Regiment also provide a platoon in one of these companies and Forward Air Operators to provide close air support. The Support company comprises mortar, sniper and patrol platoons. The Patrol platoon operates vehicles including the Jackal and includes Fire Support Groups which include Parachute Regiment, Royal Artillery and RAF Regiment personnel.
There is also a CBRN unit assigned to the SFSG to provide specialised knowledge and capability to military and civilian agencies in detection and handling of chemical, biological and radiological/nuclear weapons and materials.
It is based at MOD St Athan near Cardiff, south Wales. News reports of its strength have varied between 450-1,200 personnel.