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S.A.S. scud hunting in Iraq


Before the war started, the British Gulf Commander, Lieutenant General Sir Peter de la Billiere, had proposed sending in small teams of Special Air Service (SAS) commandos to harass Iraqi troops in western Iraq, in an effort to distract their attention from the impending main attack into Kuwait.To the surprise of some, this suggestion was approved and two 'Sabre' squadrons (one half of the Regiment's fighting manpower) were deployed and began operations on 20 January 1991.

The first SAS troops were inserted into Iraq on 20 January but they were re-tasked within three days to target the mobile Scuds. At first there was no established procedure for the SAS patrols to co-operate with USAF strike aircraft patrolling the Scud boxes. SAS men had to use the emergency "guard" radio frequency to talk to the pilots. Within a short period of time the SAS teams, roving western Iraq in heavily armed truck convoys were almost daily calling down USAF aircraft against suspected Scud launchers.

The primary mission for SAS was to locate and designate targets for destruction by Coalition warplanes. To this end, most teams traveled at night, while hiding out during the day. In periods of darkness or for targets obscured by camouflage, the roving teams carried laser target designators (LTD). Using these, an attacking aircraft could employ laser-guided bombs or missiles riding the beam emitted by the LTD. Those targets that were caught out in the open during daylight hours were targeted visually by the operators on the ground who then directed in aircraft armed with unguided bombs and other munitions. The hunters were able to provide information on enemy vehicle movements, however by the time this intelligence was incorporated into the target package oftentimes the mobile launchers had left their hiding place and moved to another location.

Beside scud hunting, the troopers also did direct combats. The SAS patrols attacked Iraqi troops with anti-tank missiles and mortars. SAS liaison officers were posted to the joint US/Coalition Tactical Air Control Centre (TACC) in Riyadh and radio procedures established for the ground forces to control air strikes. The TACC was the nerve centre of the Coalition air campaign and had radio links to the AWACS aircraft that co-ordinated all air activity. Coalition aircraft were also warned of SAS patrol areas to prevent 'friendly fire' incidents.One 30-man SAS team, reportedly deployed from Al Jouf, successfully assaulted a Scud command-and-control center, despite the presence of an estimated 300 Iraqi military personnel.

One of the more interesting elements of the operation was the group based at the outpostof Al Jouf, approximately 150 miles south of the Iraqi border. This was a truly 'joint' team made up of SAS personnel, along with USAF A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft and AFSOC MH-53J Pave Lows. These British teams soon developed a close relationship with the USAF crews as the Pave Lows provided insertion and the 'Warthogs' were often the first aircraft to respond to reports of TEL sightings.

While the SAS was supported by the US elite aviation uniti, it should be mentioned that other SAS units were also transported in their own version of the Chinook, flown by its own helicopter squadron (based in Hereford) or Royal Air Force (RAF) crews.

SAS adapted to the harsh terrain by making effective use of light vehicles during their operations instead of patrolling on foot. The SAS drove two versions, the Longline Light Strike Vehicle (LSV) and an updated version of the long-lived "Pink Panther" Land Rover. Both vehicles were designed to carry heavy loads, including two or three fully-equipped soldiers, food, water, ammunition, extra fuel and a wide variety of weapons (up to six Milan or TOW anti-tank missiles, and a mount for a 40mm grenade launcher, 30mm cannon or .50 caliber heavy machine gun).

One eight-man SAS team was compromised while on a reconnaissance mission . Four of these troopers died during escape-and-evasion after they were engaged by subsequent Iraqi patrols. Commandos from both groups were injured in firefights with Iraqi forces on a number of occasions in addition to casualties from exposure to unexpectedly cold nighttime weather.

The hunt was an unqualified success and may have provided one of the single greatest, and least known, contributions to the victory of Coalition forces in the Gulf.

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