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WAR ON TERROR: AFGHAN MISSION: WASTE LAND; SAS is ready to slip over border to find killers.

Byline: ANDY McNAB Ex-SAS soldier who went behind enemy lines in Iraq

GULF War hero Andy McNab knows exactly what Britain's elite SAS will go through if they are ordered into bleak, bomb-scarred Afghanistan.

They will use the expertise they picked up while training the Mujahedeen in their guerilla war against the Soviet Army invasion force.

But that also means the Taliban fighters will be aware of some of the regiment's tricks.

Here former SAS man Andy, author of Bravo Two Zero, tells DON MACKAY how his former comrades will go about their task in hunting down the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.EACH SAS squadron has between 16 and 20 dedicated mountain troops who have been trained to cope with Afghanistan's hostile terrain.

Mission planners back in Hereford will have picked soldiers with dusky Mediterranean or Middle Eastern looks, so they can blend in.

They will wear Taliban dress, be unshaven and wear scarves round their heads.

Concealment is the most crucial weapon they have. To slip in through mountain passes, observe the situation, and slip out when necessary after carrying out a recce.

Others might just lay up and bury themselves into the countryside where possible to watch troops and fighter movements by the targeted enemy.

If air attacks are involved, they may even be used to plant laser markers to pinpoint targets, or supply the air-force controllers high in the skies in their AWACS with much-needed location details

But the key will be not to leave any trace of their presence.

They must never leave the slightest thing which might tip off the enemy that they are there. Everything they need will have to be carried in - and taken out.

That includes excrement. The soldiers will have to go to the toilet in a bag which they then have to carry round with them.

They will be carrying packs weighing 80lb containing food, water and medical supplies.

The first-aid kit has field dressings for gun wounds, plasma, saline solution and even drips.

If they have to ditch the packs, each soldier still has a belt kit with a 24-hour supply of water, food and ammo. The belt kit never comes off.

The lads that go in will either walk there carrying their equipment or be dropped off by helicopters. There are special forces helicopters armed with stealth capabilities.

Some may be dropped at 33,000ft in HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) insertions.

If they pull the canopy straightaway, they can fly in, even from a neighbouring country.

They can be up there for several hours and travel a couple hundred kilometres.

Others could be dropped by HALO method (High Altitude Low Opening).

They could free-fall between mountain peaks and pull the ripcord at the last moment, barely a couple of hundred feet up.

That means they will be camouflaged by the mountain peaks.

When they lay up, the first priority will be to try to get as many calories inside them as possible from five special menus that are drawn up.

Those working in teams will take it in turns to sleep. Those soldiers working alone, such as spotters, will have to find cover in the caves which are dotted throughout the Afghan mountains.

They have been specially trained to go without sleep for at least 48 hours.

The SAS trained the Mujahedeen to fight against the Russians during the 1980s, so there will be men there who have excellent knowledge of the terrain. That will help.

But it will also mean the Taliban know how the regiment works.

Most of the lads will be armed with an M16 assault rifle and a golock machete knife as well as a pistol for close protection.

They will also probably carry claymore anti-personnel mines and hand grenades.

Many of the boys favour that small lethal knife, the kukri, borrowed from their colleagues in the Gurkhas.

CAPTION(S):

SHATTERED CITY: Bombed-out buildings line the street\s of the Afghan capital Kabul; DESPERATE: Money-changers offer up to 700,000 Afghani notes for one US dollar; HUNGRY: Widows queue for rations of food handed out by the Red Cross in Kabul; RARELY SEEN: Hardly any street vendors selling fresh food are now left in Kabul
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 19, 2001
Words:705
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