The secret work of SAS troops battling Al Qa’eda terrorists in Iraq has been exposed by the American commander in the country
British special forces had played an “immense” role in taking out terrorist bomb-making cells and insurgent leaders over the last five years, said Gen David Petraeus.
In one incident the SAS blended into the heavy Baghdad traffic by hiring a pink pick-up truck and removing their military clothing to capture a terrorist, the general said.
“They have helped immensely in the Baghdad area, in particular, to take down the al-Qaeda car bomb networks and other al-Qaeda operations in Iraq’s capital city, so they have done a phenomenal job in that regard,” he said.
The exposure of SAS exploits is unusual as the Ministry of Defence very rarely comments on special forces operations giving little insight.
The SAS has been operating from Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 carrying out strike operations against insurgents.
Very little is known about the success of their missions but Gen Petraeus indicated yesterday that working alongside their American colleagues in Delta Force the British had had a significant impact in defeating Al Qa’eda in Iraq.
The SAS had played a key part in defeating a network of car bombers in the Baghdad that had brought devastation to the capital.
Quoting the Special Air Service motto “Who Dares Wins” the general said there had been numerous successes on many “very important operations”.
“They have exceptional initiative, exceptional skill, exceptional courage and, I think, exceptional savvy. I can’t say enough about how impressive they are in thinking on their feet,” said Gen Petraeus, the main architect of “surge” strategy that has seen a substantial decrease in violence with the influx of extra American troops.
The SAS, working alongside MI6, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group, are based in The Station, a high security area in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
SAS snipers have been extremely successful shooting dead suicide bombers about to detonate their devices and troopers have called in clinical air strikes to kill terror chiefs known as “high value targets”.
Officers have said Baghdad is one of the “most challenging” environments the unit has ever faced in the world.
It is thought the troops have killed hundreds of insurgents both in Baghdad and when they have been called down to Basra to assist regular British troops.
But British special forces have paid a high price for their success in Iraq with 10 killed and scores seriously wounded, with some losing limbs.
Among the biggest cause of casualties has been from abseiling out of helicopters while carrying more than 100lbs of equipment. The troops now have a designated physiotherapist.
Last month a coroner allowed the naming of Tpr Lee Fitzsimmons and Sgt John Battersby who were killed when their RAF Puma helicopter crashed near the Baghdad suburb of Salman Pak.
Another SAS soldier Nick Brown died during a firefight with Shia fighters in Baghdad on 26 March when he was part of a team sent in to arrest a militia commander.
American commanders have also said SAS troops have been used to hunt for the five British hostage who were seized from a Finance Ministry building in Baghdad in May last year.