British Crack Troops Likely in Afghanistan

Published September 24th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Britain's contribution to military action against Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is likely to be spearheaded by the Special Air Service (SAS), a crack squad with a history of perilous missions since World War II. 

According to some press reports in London, SAS units are already in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is based. 

The ministry of defense refused to discuss reports that a four-man SAS team was fired on by Taliban soldiers late Friday in the foothills near Kabul. 

Nevertheless, the consensus here is that if they are not there already, they soon will be. 

"They will definitely be used in some way, it just remains to be seen how," said military expert Paul Beaver.  

Bin Laden, who is based in Afghanistan, is thought to have masterminded the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington that have changed the face of international conflict. 

The SAS have a proven track record. 

In front of television cameras in 1980, SAS troops stormed the Iranian embassy in London where terrorists had killed a hostage. They freed the remaining hostages and killed five of the six terrorists. 

The SAS was the brainchild of David Stirling, a British army officer in World War II, who envisaged a highly-trained special force which could wreak havoc on supply routes and conduct lethal operations behind enemy lines. 

The determination to succeed in audacious missions was summed up in the well-known motto of the commando outfit: "Who Dares Wins." 

Stirling convinced his superiors, who ordered the first SAS mission to weaken German general Erwin Rommel's North African logistics network as well as hinder aircraft operations. 

Two groups of the desert raiding force successfully destroyed 61 aircraft at two airfields in December, 1941. 

There were to be many more SAS operations in the war against Hitler and later, the SAS saw action in several counter-insurgency operations, in Oman, Aden, Malaya and Borneo. 

They were also deployed in Northern Ireland against the Irish Republican Army and saw intensive action in the Falklands conflict of 1982. 

Today there are three SAS regiments, as well as the naval equivalent, the Royal Marines Special Boat Service. 

During the Gulf War, SAS teams penetrated deep within Iraq to search for mobile Scud missile launchers.  

If British special forces are deployed in Afghanistan to exact retribution for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they could end up fighting guerrillas they helped to train. 

Mujahadeen fighters loyal to bin Laden were trained by the SAS as part of the West's efforts to bolster resistance to invading Russian forces in the 1980s. 

SAS troops could be used to guide precision air strikes with intelligence sent from the spot via satellite communications systems. 

A new SAS recruit can opt for one of four tactically different troops which make up each of the regular regiment's four active-service SAS squadrons. 

A reserve squadron is based permanently at home to counter any possible terrorist threat. 

Squadrons receive vigorous training in their four specialist disciplines: high-altitude free-fall parachuting, amphibious operations, mountaineering and overland missions. 

The final group, known also as the mobility troop, traditionally functions in the desert. 

An SAS squadron of about 50 troops forms part of a 24,000-strong British military exercise in Oman and is on stand-by for action in Afghanistan. 

A special SAS unit has reportedly been engaged in mountain training in Pakistan for several years -- LONDON (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (

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