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The Battle For Qala-i-Janghi

Given their expertise in and around water, one might not expect the Special Boat Service to have had much to do in land-locked Afghanistan. The truth is that the SBS were not only given crucial tasks such as securing strategically important Bagram airbase, but they also played a critical role in one of the bloodiest and prolonged battles of the entire campaign. By the time the operation was over, hundreds of Taliban/Al-Qaeda fighters lay dead and the leader of the SBS team had earned himself a nomination for one of the U.S.'s highest military commendations. *

Taliban Uprising

November 2001 - The US-led campaign against the Taliban was in full swing. Northern Alliance fighters, assisted by coalition special forces had captured over 600 Taliban & Al-Qaeda prisoners, including the so-called 'American Taliban', John Walker Lind. The prisoners were being held in a large fort complex known as Qala-i-Janghi, near Mazar-i-Sharif, in the North of the country. Many Taliban prisoners were in a courtyard being interrogated by 2 CIA agents. All of a sudden, the prisoners revolted, killing one of the CIA men and forcing the other to flee for his life inside the fort.

The prisoners stormed the fort armory which was stocked with weapons including AK47s and RPGS. It was soon clear that the small group of U.S. and Northern Alliance forces guarding the prison were now facing a full scale armed uprising

Qala-i-Janghi, Afghanistan (google earth kmz file)

Enter the SBS

An eight man SBS team were in the area, tasked as the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for the region. Responding for the call for assistance, the SBS arrived at the fort in 2 armed landrovers. The battle was already in full swing by the time they arrived and the prisoners were on the verge of breaking out and overrunning the outnumbered defenders.

The SBS lined up around the battlements of the fort and engaged the enemy forces. The team was subjected to massive volleys of fire from the prisoners inside who by now were well armed, organised and highly motivated to break out. In an attempt to keep the would-be-escapees pinned down, the SBS troopers dismounted the GPMGs from their landrovers and carried them to the battlements. These they used to beat back repeated attempts by the prisoners to overrun the defender's positions.

CIA Rescue

The second CIA operative who had been taking refuge inside the fort had not been heard from in hours. Nevertheless, an ad hoc rescue party of SBS men, U.S. Special Forces and Northern Alliance solders was formed to go in and try and rescue the CIA man. This team braved enemy fire and minefields to reach the building where the CIA agent was sheltering. Against all odds, they were able to fight their way into the fort but could not find the agent. Unbeknownst to them, the CIA operative had earlier managed to escape the fort and was safely being debriefed at the HQ in Mazar. It was his part in the rescue effort that earned the SBS team leader a nomination for the American CMOH (Congressional Medal Of Honor). *

The Battle Concludes

The fighting raged for 8 days during which the SBS and U.S. Special Forces called in air strikes to keep the enemy's heads down. Unfortunately, one 2000lb JDAM bomb hit the wrong coordinates, destroying a Northern Alliance tank and killing friendly troops. Subsequent air strikes forced the prisoners to take shelter in tunnels beneath the fort.

As Northern Alliance reinforcements arrived, fuel was poured down grates into the tunnels and ignited in an attempt to flush the prisoners out. When that failed, it was decided to flood the tunnels and basements with water. Not long after, the uprising was over.

* It transpires that although the SBS team leader was put up to be awarded the CMOH, the then UK Secretary Of Defence, Jeff Hoon, quashed the nomination for undisclosed reasons.

Related Book:

Bloody Heroes
by Damien Lewis

Bloody Heroes tells the story of the SBS's role in putting down the uprising at Qala-i-janghi. The battle is described in exquisite detail and the ferocity of the uprising really comes across. Worth buying for the story of the uprising alone, Bloody Heroes also features an excellent account of the joint SBS/SAS raid on the MV Nisha cargo ship. In addition, the book covers an SBS recon mission in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Highly recommended - one of the best books on UKSF you can buy, let alone the SBS!

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