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SBS Rescue Operation - Details Emerge

09.03.2012

Some details of the failed attempt by British special forces to rescue 2 western hostages from their captors in Nigeria have begun to emerge.

Background : In May 2011, British engineer Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague, Franco Lamolinara, were abducted from their apartment in Birnin Kebbi by Boko Haram, a hardcore Islamic terror group with links to Al Qaeda. The group holding the Westerners issued vague demands, asking the UK government to "negotiate", without specifying what about.

Nigerian intelligence eventually identified the suspected location of the terror group's compound in the city of Sokoto where it was believed the 2 hostages were being held. British intelligence assets, including GCHQ signals intelligence and surveillance aircraft, began monitoring the compound.

Sokoto, Nigeria (google earth kmz file)

A 40-strong contingent of British special forces, with a core component of SBS commandos, likely supported by intelligence and signals elements, had recently entered the country. The special forces task group established its HQ in the British embassy in the Nigerian capital, Lagos. The task group began preparations for a possible rescue operation.

On Wednesday this week, the UKSF task group received intelligence that indicated that the terrorists were about to move the hostages, possibly with the intention of killing them. The SBS commander on the ground in Lagos passed this up the chain of command to the Director of Special Forces, who in turn briefed COBRA, the emergency cabinet committee, headed by the Prime Minister. Believing that the window of opportunity in which to launch a successful rescue was closing, the SBS were given the go ahead to move in.

It appears that, due to the perceived imminent threat to the hostages, the SBS were forced to carry out their 'immediate action' plan. Such a plan is called on in an emergency such as when terrorists begin executing hostages. In such scenarios, the counter terrorism team has typically only just arrived on the scene and has had little time to build up an intelligence picture or to rehearse the operation. In such a scenario, the assault team is going in blind, not necessarily knowing exactly where the hostages are being held, what opposition to expect or what obstacles they may have to overcome.

It has been reported that the SBS approached the target building in Sokoto in trucks. Other reports indicate that the SBS arrived in helicopters while the Nigerian forces arrived in vehicles to set up a cordon around the target building. The assault force consisted of around 8 SBS operatives, supported by a number of Royal Marines Commandos - possibly with the SFSG.

As the SBS began to storm the terrorist compound, a fire fight ensued, resulting in the deaths of several of the hostage-takers. When the SBS team eventually fought its way inside the buildings, they discovered they were too late - the hostages had been killed by their captors. It is not yet clear exactly when the hostages were killed, whether it was before or during the SBS operation.

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