About 50 members of the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) have been sent to Iraq to help with potential evacuation of Britons in the aftermath of a US drone strike which killed General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s elite Quds Force on Friday, according to The Daily Star.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also ordered the deployment of UK warships to the Strait of Hormuz in order to “take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens” as Iran is pledging retaliation following the killing of Soleimani.
The Times, in turn, quoted an unnamed government source as saying that London has “a plan A and a plan B and a 'break the glass' plan if it all kicks off”.
“Our forces in the region have been told to re-orientate towards force protection”, the source added.
The Daily Star has, meanwhile, reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first reaction to the news about US President Donald Trump ordering an airstrike on Soleimani was “a single word expletive: f***”.
“He summed up what we all felt. It was pretty much the reaction of the British Army’s entire general staff. It came completely without warning, not even the slightest inkling from the US,” the newspaper cited a source at London’s Permanent Joint Head Quarters as saying.
Earlier, The Telegraph reported that back in 2007, the SAS was in standby mode to assassinate Soleimani after he was ostensibly identified as the mastermind behind a campaign against UK troops in Iraq's southern port city of Basra.
The newspaper quoted source as claiming that the SAS had Soleimani in their “crosshairs” and were ready to act after the top Iranian general was located, but that then-UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband had called off the operation.
The report came after Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of an Iraqi Shia militia group, were killed in a US drone attack near Baghdad International Airport on 3 January.
US President Donald Trump suggested that the attack was a preemptive, defensive strike. Iran, in turn, called the strike a terrorist attack and vowed to enact revenge, sparking fears of full-scale war in the Middle East.