LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s special forces are about to shift away from counter-terrorism work and instead concentrate on blocking covert operations by countries such as Russia, the BBC reported on Thursday, citing unnamed British officials and military sources.
Senior military officers are considering the proposal and are likely to recommend the government approve it, the BBC’s security editor said.
“The counter-terrorist task is drawing down, while the need to confront dangerous international behavior by peer adversaries is increasing,” the BBC quoted one source as saying.
Britain blames Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency for the poison attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury last year. Russia denies responsibility.
The Skripals’ poisoning with a nerve agent prompted a wave of diplomatic expulsions and recriminations, with ties between London and Moscow shriveling to a post-Cold War low in its wake.
Russia has raised international concerns following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Skripal affair and accusations by the United States and some EU governments that it interfered in their elections.
“Under the new plan, an operation might be mounted in a Baltic republic or African country in order to uncover and pinpoint Russian covert activities,” the BBC said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment on the BBC report, and a spokeswoman said the government did not routinely comment on matters affecting special forces.
The BBC said the change would boost the role of Britain’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, a military unit which carries out covert surveillance such as planting cameras in insurgent-held territory and electronic eavesdropping.
It quoted an unnamed senior British military officer as saying commanders wanted a greater range of options beyond conventional military action.
“Right now, you do nothing or you escalate,” the officer said. “We want to expand that competitive space.”
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Sandra Maler