The men were fighting with the Syrian Democratic Forces in two towns east of the River Euphrates
Two SAS soldiers seriously injured in Syria were hit as Islamic State militants counterattacked in one of their last two strongholds.
The two men were embedded with the Syrian Democratic Forces, Britain and America’s local allies in eastern Syria, as they attacked the Isis-held town of al-Shaafa.
A local fighter, a Kurd from the YPG militia, which dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces, was killed when an Isis unit fired what local commanders said was a heat-seeking missile at the group on Saturday morning.
One SAS soldier received a serious injury to his throat, while the other suffered lesser injuries. Both were taken to a field hospital at the nearby al-Omar oilfield and flown by helicopter to an unnamed US-run military base for hospital treatment.
The Times understands that neither Briton is in a critical condition and both are expected to survive. The Ministry of Defence would not discuss their condition, saying that it did not comment on special forces operations. Neither man has been named.
The two men are among several hundred members of British, American, French and other western special forces fighting alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in eastern Syria against the remnants of Isis. The militants are surrounded in two towns east of the River Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province, al-Shaafa and al-Susah. Al-Shaafa has been the scene of intense fighting for a week, and inroads have been made against Isis, with up to half the town seized, according to local journalists.
Kamiran Sadoun, a Syrian Kurdish journalist who was in the area at the time, said that there had been five to seven SAS soldiers on patrol with SDF fighters when the clash happened. He said that he had spoken to wounded SDF soldiers at the al-Omar field hospital.“They told us they were attacked — they shot at the Isis fighters then they fired back with a thermal missile,” he told The Times. He said that besides the fighter who was killed, two more were injured.
There have been heavy coalition air strikes, including one on Friday that was said to have killed 11 civilians, among them a Russian woman and her child. Thousands more civilians have fled the area.
The death of the Kurdish fighter and the two Britons’ injuries will be used to highlight a clash between Britain and America over plans for the region. Last month President Trump announced that he would withdraw all 2,000 American troops operating in Syria. The move, contradicting a policy he announced last summer to keep American troops in Syria to ensure Isis remained defeated and to maintain a bulwark against Iranian influence, prompted fierce criticism across the West and was followed by James Mattis, US defence secretary, announcing his resignation. British politicians argued that Isis was “not yet defeated” and Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, said that it was necessary to “keep a foot on the throat”.
No timetable for the withdrawal has been given, although Mr Trump’s initial demand that it be within 30 days has been discounted.
A senior British defence source said yesterday: “This attack goes to show that the fight against Daesh is by no means over. There’s a question now over whether Daesh are ramping up their operations ahead of the US troop withdrawal to ‘prove’ that they drove American forces out. It could be similar to what the Taliban tried to do in Helmand in Afghanistan.”
With many thanks to: The Times/ The Sunday Times for the original story