Ranger Regiment’s first task likely be fighting Islamists in East Africa, says Defence Secretary

The Army’s new Ranger Regiment’s first deployment will likely be to fight Islamists in East Africa, said the Defence Secretary.

Warning of the danger from the Islamist al-Shabaab group, Ben Wallace said: "We have to help Somalia [and] we have to help Kenya be resistant."

Recent history of intervention ahead of a crisis showed “an awful lot of ‘going in at the last minute’”, he said.

Deploying special operations forces to global trouble spots before state failure would “help avoid catastrophic failure” in the future.

Speaking to The Telegraph in Fort Bragg, the home of the US Green Berets, upon which the Ranger Regiment is based, Mr Wallace outlined how Britain’s network of defence attachés would be expanded to help identify missions for the new unit.

"We’re going to invest in our defence attaché network, improve their capabilities, improve their training, improve that quality, improve how they work with the Foreign Office, and other government departments in commercial [activity],” he said.

Adding, “they have to be our eyes and ears”, he said the network would also seek to identify trade and security and defence opportunities.

Boris Johnson meets soldiers of the new Ranger Regiment during a visit to Aldershot Garrison in Hampshire

Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

"Defence diplomacy matters. We never really put our heart and soul into it, and we should do.”

He said defence’s contribution to Global Britain was to help improve resilience in fragile areas, “so conflicts don’t break out, countries don’t slide into terrorism and corruption doesn’t take root”.

“Defence plays a really important role in delivering that. Kenya is really important to us and Somalia is a big challenge [with] al-Shabaab, [where] British tourists get targeted.

"It’s not in our interest for our friends to come under attack."

The United Nations Security Council voted in February this year to renew the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a peacekeeping force first deployed in the country in 2007.  

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina

Credit: James Breeden for The Telegraph

UN members unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the mission in the country, backing the Somali government to continue fighting al-Shabaab. 

AMISOM has nearly 20,000 troops on the ground, mainly from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti, but in recent years it had struggled to make headway against the terrorists.  

Mr Wallace said the new Ranger battalions would “absolutely” be busy, and Britain’s interests in East Africa should be supported.

As he continued his global trip to build defence relationships, the Defence Secretary outlined how the Ranger Regiment in five years’ time could include elements from the RAF and Royal Navy, as well as reservists from 77 Brigade.

“People join the Armed Forces to be forward and present and busy,” he said.

“You don’t provide resilience to your allies cutting your toenails in bases in Britain. You provide resilience to your allies by being out and about and helping them. That’s what Britain’s good at."

Captain Anthony Kirkham, 35, based in Fort Bragg and attached to the US 82nd Airborne Division from the Royal Irish Regiment, said service in the new Ranger Regiment would be popular in the military.

Royal Irish Captain Anthony Kirkham, 35, a division headquarters planner at Fort Bragg

Credit: James Breeden for The Telegraph

“People join to deploy and have an effect. It’s operations, guaranteed,” he said.

Also in North Carolina, meeting US Special Operations commanders, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, the Chief of the General Staff, said: “The world is becoming more complicated and one of the implications for the Army is that there’s a greater demand for … not just special forces but specialist capabilities.

He added: “Our special forces community has been very stretched by the demands of the post-9/11 climate.”

He said the UK Special Forces Group was now having to “manage some of the implications of the rise of great power competition”, a very different proposition from that of fighting a counter-insurgency or a regional counter-terrorist campaign. “That has been quite absorbing,” he said.

UK military personnel over time

General Sir Mark said the Rangers would act as a "third piece of the jigsaw", an interface between conventional and special forces.

“We’re going to build on the success of our specialised infantry battalions…and take it to the next step, which is to convert an infantry capability into a specialised whole-army capability.

“We are at an inflection point. This isn’t a moment when you’re flicking the light switch. This will be a journey over several years.

“As part of that trajectory, one will see a re-balancing of outputs between tier-one special forces and Army special forces, of which the Ranger Regiment is the prime," he added. 

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