British SAS parachuted in to Baghdad
SAS troopers have carried out the first major combat parachute operations since Suez more than 50 years ago, it can now be disclosed.
Using advanced parachuting techniques Special Forces carried out a series of operational jumps onto the outskirts of Baghdad targeting insurgent leaders and bomb-making factories, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
The airborne operations – which can only now be disclosed – played a significant role in removing so-called insurgent “high value targets” and reducing their ability to make roadside bombs.
On at least a dozen occasions SAS soldiers jumped from the back of a Hercules aircraft at around 15,000ft. After steering for several miles, they landed silently close to insurgent strongholds on an area the size of a football pitch.
The troops of up 12 men then quietly made their way on foot either to begin an operation or set up a covert observation post where they would mount electronic devices linked to voice and facial recognition software to spy on insurgents.
Dressed in the SAS’s latest combat uniforms, with some carrying the heavy-hitting Heckler and Koch 417 rifle equipped with a silencer, the men either assisted other SAS helicopter-borne troops or mounted the raid themselves.
“It was the surprise factor that we were after,” said a special forces soldier involved in the operations. “You could have some time under canopy to travel a few kilometres from the point of opening onto the ground.”
Using a special chest rig mounted with satellite navigation, radios and altimeters and oxygen masks the soldiers at first gathered in the sky and then steered towards the ground as a group.
“These jumps took place all over city but particularly Sadr city on the eastern edge of Baghdad where it heads into countryside. You would land on the outskirts, on the right side of the Tigris, and then tab in. “It gives you the ability of surprise for a hard knock or to get to that point where you have eyes on the target without anyone having a clue that you are in there. As soon as you put a helicopter up people know what’s going on.”
On some occasions a helicopter force in Pumas was called in to start an operation otherwise they were used to extract the soldiers.“We had the means to get into a building and means to fight our way out,” the soldier said.“We did arrests. We are not going in to neutralise everything but to try and capture targets. However, if you are in the course of apprehending somebody and your life is under threat, if somebody is pointing a gun at you then they will be very lucky to survive.”
News of combat jumps, which were made over the last two years, comes at a time when a shortage of RAF Hercules and pilots has meant that a third of the 2,400 paratroopers in 16 Air Assault Brigade are not qualified to jump.
Airborne officers argue that keeping a parachute capability maintains Britain’s ability to launch rapid reaction forces that could for instance take a hostile runway in Africa or at the very least “give the enemy something to think about”.
A few parachute jumps were used by the SAS and SBS in Afghanistan in 2001 and on two occasions the Parachute Regiment has come close to making drops in Afghanistan.
During the Suez operation in 1956 more than 700 paratroopers landed in Egypt to successful seize airfields, which enabled the further airlanding of troops and supplies. The operation by Britain, France, and Israel followed Egypt’s decision to nationalize the strategically-important Suez Canal.
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent