SBS Gulf War I Operation
January 1991 - Desert Shield has transformed into Desert Storm and allied warplanes are pounding the Iraqi military. Saddam Hussein's response was to target Saudi Arabia and Israel with long range scud missiles. Whilst not a significant military threat, the scud launchers caused a political crisis with Israel gearing up to enter the conflict which would have caused the West-Arab coalition to crumble. Something had to be done to stop the scuds flying. Scores of allied aircraft were tasked with finding the launchers, which proved to be next to impossible as the Iraqis hid them in barns and under bridges.
Send In The SBS
In need of a role in a remote control war, UK Special Forces drew up plans to deal with the scud threat. SAS landrover and foot patrols were sent into the Western Iraqi desert whilst the SBS covered the East. Intelligence pinpointed a network of fibre optic cables sprouting out of Baghdad which the Iraqi regime were using to send targeting information and fire control messages to the mobile scud launchers. The cables were underground and so couldn't be hit from the air. It was decided to assign the SBS the task of finding and cutting the cables.
In the dead of night, a team of around 36 SBS operators, on board 2 Chinooks from RAF Special Forces flight, flew from Saudi into Iraq, flying at low level until touching down at their landing zone which was only 40 miles south of Baghdad. The SBS men were split into teams. One team would handle the demolitions and so were laden down with explosives and shovels and cable detection gear. The rest of the SBS would protect both the demolitions team and the 2 helicopters. Heavily armed with GPMGs, grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons, they formed a protective perimeter around the operation, keenly aware of how perilously close to the Iraqi capital they were. It has been reported that the SBS demolitions team were accompanied by a member of the secretive American intelligence unit, the Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), who was an expert in the types of communications cable the Iraqis were known to use.
The operation took several hours as the demolition teams located and dug out the cables. All the while the 2 Chinooks kept their engines running with disengaged rotors so as to keep the noise down but not risk any engine startup problems. To the relief of all, the demolitions team completed its task, packing the cables with explosives and setting the fuses. The SBS men quickly rebussed onto the Chinooks which took them back to base in Saudi. As they flew home, a bright flash on the horizon behind them signaled that the cables had been cut.
This raid behind enemy lines was a classic Special Forces mission, executed with daring and professionalism, a mission that could not have been done from the air. The success of the operation proved that even in the age of modern hi-tech warfare, there is still a need for well trained forces on the ground.