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OPERAÇÕES - BARRAS - Serra Leoa - 2000


Equipes do Esquadrão D do SAS foram enviadas para Serra Leoa em 2000 para dar suporte as forças britânicas destacadas para aquele país. Sua missão a priori era realizar reconhecimento avançado nas regiões controladas pelos rebeldes. Mas quando um contingente de 11 militares britânicos pertencentes ao Royal Irish Regiment foi seqüestrado por homens da milícia West Side Boys no dia 25 de agosto, a missão do SAS em Serra Leoa mudou. 

Os soldados seqüestrados faziam parte do contingente enviado pela Grã-Bretanha para Serra Leoa para treinar e dar assessoria às tropas do governo serra-leonês, para que estas possam enfrentar as guerrilhas opostas ao regime, principalmente a Frente Revolucionária Unida (FRU). Os soldados (11 britânicos e um militar de ligação serra-leonês) viajavam em três Land Rovers artilhados pela estrada principal na direção de Freetown, retornando de uma reunião com forças Jordanianas da ONU, quando foram capturados pelos West Side Boys, segundo informações britânicas. Mas segundo outras fontes eles não estavam na estrada em sim selva a dentro e não tinham se encontrado com os jordanianos.

Os West Side Boys, com seu estapafúrdio nome de banda de rock, eram os típicos combatentes de uma guerra cujas atrocidades conseguiam ser mais chocantes que qualquer outra das barbaridades em curso na África. As tropas eram formadas por ex-militares e adolescentes movidos a drogas cujo mais abominável hábito era cortar as mãos de civis escolhidos a esmo, inclusive mulheres e crianças. 

Operadores do SAS desembarcam em Serra Leoa

Operação Barras 

Os rebeldes disseram que soldados britânicos foram feitos reféns porque entraram no território dos West Side Boys a procura de um empresário de Serra Leoa que tinha conexões com interesses britânicos. O empresário foi seqüestrado há um mês e, desde então, não se tinha notícias dele. 

Os West Side Boys que seqüestraram os soldados britânicos, tinham por chefe, Foday Kallay, de 24 anos, que se apresentavaWest Side Boys. nas negociações para a libertação dos ingleses como "general-de-brigada", mas, até que o país mergulhasse no banho de sangue, ele era apenas sargento e servia como porteiro do Ministério da Defesa. 

Quando foi negociar com os britânicos em 29 de agosto, Foday Kallay estava rodeado de guardas costas fortemente armados em roupas de camuflagem e camisetas. Um guarda trazia um lançador de granada impelido por foguete atravessado no peito e tinha uma granada presa a uma faixa preta que lhe circundava a cabeça. Outros bebiam cerveja de lata. Seus guarda-costas formavam um paredão ameaçador atrás dele. Kallay havia mantido um capitão britânico diante dele para servir de escudo humano, ao chegar para as primeiras negociações.

Tropas britânicas entram em um Chinnok em Serra Leoa.No dia 30 de agosto o clima ficou menos tenso quando nas negociações com o Tenente-Coronel Simon Fordham, oficial comandante do Royal Irish Regiment e um general jordaniano, Kally, libertou 5 militares britânicos, em troca de um telefone por satélite e remédios.

Mas Kally em outras negociações começou a ameaçar, dizendo que se ouvisse o barulho de um único helicóptero, mataria todos os reféns. Os negociadores britânicos (dois deles do SAS), sentados do lado oposto, concordaram calmamente, garantindo a Kallay entender que ele era um homem respeitado e um comandante importante. Porém nas negociações posteriores o estado de humor de Kallay mudou drasticamente. 

Em uma explosão de raiva, ele se queixou dos ataques britânicos às suas posições, em uma referência à Operação Trovoada, o bombardeio das bases dos West Side Boys pela Missão de Auxílio da ONU em Serra Leoa (Unamsil): "Posso garantir-lhe que o governo britânico não teve nenhum envolvimento na Operação Trovoada", disse um negociador britânico. Kallay, então, apresentou uma lista de exigências para libertar os outros soldados, elas variaram desde a instalação de um novo governo no país ao pagamento de anuidades para seus homens cursarem uma universidade britânica. "Resolva meus problemas e devolverei essas pessoas em 24 horas." 

Ele também exigia remédios e alimentos. Paralelamente, outro líder dos West Side Boys, Coronel Camboja, que servia como um porta-voz dos rebeldes exigia uma revisão do acordo de paz, a reintegração do grupo  rebelde no exército, e a libertação de seu líder, General Papa, da prisão.

Em uma outra sessão de negociação, Kallay tinham pedido a libertação de quatro de seus comandantes, detidos em uma prisão de Freetown. Ao falar sobre a captura dos soldados britânicos, Kallay negou que tivesse saído determinado a seqüestrá-los. "Eu estava na minha base, não na estrada", disse. "Eles é que se meteram com meus homens. Não fui atrás deles."

Mas enquanto as negociações ocorriam um plano de resgate estava sendo montado. A missão dos negociadores era de apenas ganhar tempo para as tropas de resgate.  Homens do SAS em Serra Leoa.

A base rebelde ficava numa área de manguezais e densa floresta em Occra Hills, a cerca de 70 quilômetros da capital, Freetown. Os britânicos temiam pela vida dos reféns, já que os membros da West Side Boys se envolviam em bebedeiras, consumiam drogas e normalmente cometiam atrocidades. 

Os rebeldes mantinham os reféns na aldeia de  Gberi Bana. Existiam cerca de 110 West Side Boys na área. Uns 60 em Gberi Bana e o resto numa posição fortificada, inclusive apoiada pelos Lands Rovers capturados, em Magbeni e uma posição com metralhadora perto de Forodugu. Segundo dados da inteligência, ao todo cerca de 200 rebeldes estavam naquela área.

Durante duas semanas os britânicos treinaram para o resgate. Neste período Postos de Observação do SAS foram montados próximos a posição rebelde para monitorar os seus movimentos.

No dia 5 de setembro 100 pára-quedistas britânicos do 1º Para chegaram a Serra Leoa, vindos do Senegal, para participar da Operação Barras, codinome do missão de resgate. Ao total 272 homens participariam da missão: 100 homens do Esquadrão D do SAS, 110 do 1º Para e um contingente do SBS, além do pessoal da RAF. A Força Aérea usaria helicópteros Chinook e Lynx que foram desdobrados para o pequeno aeródromo de Lungi, perto de Freetown. Os Lynx foram levados para a área por um C-130 Hércules, que fez uma escala em Dakar, Senegal, e depois partiu direto para Lungi. Os Chinooks já estavam desde o princípio em Serra Leoa. Depois de reunidos e checados, os helicópteros voaram então para o aeródromo de Hastings, a aproximadamente 50 quilômetros de Freetown. 

No dia 9 de setembro de  2000 Foday Kally ameaçou duramente matar os reféns restantes a menos que as suas exigências  políticas fossem atendidas. A coisas começaram a ficar cada vez mais complicadas, com sinais evidentes de perigo. Foday Kally foi visto usando um uniforme britânico e os rebeldes do seu grupo atacaram um grupo rival usando os Land Rovers capturados. Estes combates estavam acontecendo perigosamente perto do local onde estavam os reféns.

Estes últimos acontecimento e as ameaças de Foday Kally fizeram o primeiro-ministro britânico Tony Blair decidir por lançar uma operação de salvamento, que na verdade já estava montada, só esperando a autorização do governo britânico. A ordem partiu de Nova York, onde o primeiro-ministro estava, participando de uma reunião na ONU.

O objetivo principal da missão era os reféns e o secundário era prender Foday Kally. Para isso a surpresa era essencial. Temendo que o som dos helicópteros alertassem os rebeldes o assalto foi programado para as primeiras horas do dia com luz, quando o inimigo estaria em seu menor estado de alerta.

A Operação Barras, seria um ataque em duas frentes, com os pára-quedistas do 1º Para descendo dos helicópteros Chinook sobre um local de pouso perto da posição dos West Side Boys. Sua missão era atacar a vila de Magbeni, que era uma das duas posições controladas pelos rebeldes em Rockel Creek. Do outro lado, a cerca de 100 jardas, estava a vila de Gberi Bana, onde os militares britânicos do Royal Irish Regiment estavam mantidos como reféns.Soldados britânicos em um Land Rover em Serra Leoa.

Enquanto os pára-quedistas atacavam a vila de Magbeni, o assalto direto a vila de Gberi Bana seria realizado por homens do Esquadrão D do SAS, vindos do norte (de uma posição previamente montada no dia 31 de agosto) e do sul, através de mergulhadores do SBS que sairiam do rio, depois de tê-lo atravessado numa infiltração subaquática.

No dia 10 de setembro às 6:16 da manhã os três helicópteros Chinook e dois Lynx Westland artilhados decolaram em direção as posições rebeldes, levando 110 pára-quedistas e o homens do SAS (pertencentes ao Special Projects Team) e do SBS. Com uma velocidade de 320 km/h a força de assalto se aproximou d delta do Riacho Rokel.

Às às 6:40 começou o assalto com os dois Lynx atacando os rebeldes no riacho. Dois Chinooks desembarcaram os pára-quedistas e homens do SBS um pouco ao sul da aldeia de Magbeni, possibilitando que os homens fossem inseridos usando a técnica do fast rope, que consiste no desembarque rápido de vários militares usando apenas luvas grossas e uma corda. Uma vez no solo os soldados se espalharam e atacaram as posições rebelde em Magbeni e Forodugu. As posições foram neutralizadas e a aldeia foi limpa num espaço de tempo de cerca de 12 minutos depois que a força de assalto tocou no solo. Enquanto os pára-quedistas atacavam essas posições, os homens do SBS cruzaram o Riacho Rokel para atacar Gberi Bana.

Sicronizadamente o terceiro Chinnok desembarcar o pessoal do Special Projects Team (SPT-SAS). Os pára-quedistas tentam chamar o fogo dos guardas e os homens do SPT com o apoio dos operadores do SAS que vigiavam o local e do SBS tomam a cabana onde estão os reféns, matando os seus captores, e resgatam os soldados. Imediatamente eles são levados para a área de extração, apesar do fogo dos rebeldes. Felizmente  todos eles são retirados do local com vida. 

Existem dúvidas se eles foram retirados do local em um Lynx ou no terceiro Chinook. Devido a sua agilidade o Lynx seria o mais adequado, mas eles estavam configurados como gunships o que poderia dificultar o resgate de reféns sob condições de combate. O certo é que os reféns foram imediatamente levados para fora do local. Cerca de 20 minutos depois de começar a operação, eles já estavam a caminho do RFA LSL Sir Percival que estava ancorado perto de Freetown. 

A luta na vila Magbeni levou mais ou menos duas ou três horas. Essa demora ocorreu porque o objetivo secundário das forças britânicas era recuperar os Land Rovers que ainda estavam em poder dos rebeldes.

Conclusão

Toda a força de resgate se retirou por volta das 16:00. Os britânicos mataram 25 milicianos (entre eles 3 mulheres) do West Side Boys, libertaram todos os reféns e prenderam 18 captores (incluindo 3 mulheres). Entre os prisioneiros estava Foday Kallay, capturado quando tentava fugir para o norte. Os britânicos tiveram 12 feridos e um operador do SAS (Brad Tinnion) foi morto. Os prisioneiros foram entregues a uma companhia de tropas jordanianas que tomaram a estrada para a aldeia de Magbeni. Logo depois os jordanianos entregaram os prisioneiros para a polícia de Serra Leoa.

Depois de passada toda a agitação do resgate foi revelado que o a entregar do telefone por satélite era um elemento vital da missão de resgate. Não somente ajudou a localizar os reféns, pois usava um dispositivo de localização, como permitiu também que as forças armadas britânicas entrassem em contato com eles antes que o salvamento fosse feito, através de uma mensagem codificada, que informava que uma operação estava a ponto de ser lançada. 

O primeiro-ministro britânico Tony Blair disse que a operação foi totalmente bem-sucedida e elogiou a habilidade e profissionalismo das Forças Armadas britânicas, dizendo que elas são "as melhores do mundo". 

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Operation certain death

 

When the SAS was told to rescue British soldiers in Sierra Leone, the odds were so high that the top brass warned of a possible disaster. Damien Lewis reveals how they triumphed

 

Nosing their inflatables up yet another vast sandbank, the SAS men gathered in the darkness. They were exhausted, soaked to the skin, covered in mud from the river and eaten alive by mosquitoes. The boat trip was clearly over. It was time to say goodbye.
The inflatables disappeared into the night, leaving 10 men behind. They were the advance party of one of the most hazardous rescues in the history of the SAS.

It was August 2000. Eleven soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment had been kidnapped by Sierra Leonean rebels known as the West Side Boys. UK special forces commanders had been told to prepare a plan to free them.

The first move was to dispatch these 10 observers to spy on the rebels? jungle camp at Gberi Bana about 30 miles up a river called Rokel Creek from Freetown, Sierra Leone?s capital.

The SAS men now trekked for five miles through the jungle on extreme ?hard routine?, carrying their weapons, their communications equipment, specialist spying gear and food. They had waterproof bivvy bags, but not for sleeping in; they were for emergency use if a man was ill or injured.

They had only the clothes they stood up in. Ultimately each man would take on the musky scent of an animal. They would eat cold food, chocolate, sweets and dried fruit. They would urinate into bottles, defecate into plastic bags, and stow them in their bergens.

They approached the rebel base just before first light. The final 200 yards turned out to be so impenetrable that they were forced to lie up with no sight of the village. They searched for the most uninviting and thorny thicket they could find and crawled into it. This was home for the next few days.

By mid-morning they were able to radio Waterloo camp, the British special forces base outside Freetown, Sierra Leone?s capital, with the bad news that the terrain was totally unsuited to a covert overland assault. Nor had a river assault any chance of succeeding. And the landing zone picked from satellite photos for a helicopter attack had turned out to be a vast swamp.

It was to be Operation Certain Death then, as the men had started calling the only remaining option: putting an assault team on helicopters and flying them right into the heart of the rebel camp.

This was a plan born of desperation: roaring into the target, dropping down by rope and rescuing the hostages before the well-armed and much larger force of rebels carried out a threat to kill them.

Flying in on choppers and fast-roping onto the target were tactics that had gone badly wrong for US special forces in Mogadishu in the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993. None of the men assembled at Waterloo camp had forgotten the naked corpses of American soldiers hauled through the streets by a victorious Somali mob.

If this operation went pear-shaped ? and there was every possibility it might ? it would be a disaster for Tony Blair?s government.

The prime minister was receiving daily briefings. Mission assessment was that in the worst-case scenario they would have to be willing to lose half an SAS squadron and a helicopter crew. In other words, 40-odd members of the special forces, Britain?s finest, could die.

Yet a decision had already been taken that the hostages had to be rescued, at any cost. If the men of the assault force ended up paying a heavy price for that freedom, then so be it.

There was now a real prospect that the hostage crisis could rally Sierra Leone?s various rebel factions into a force that would beat the best the British military had to throw at them.

This would give the Libyan-backed, Al-Qaeda-financed rebel coalition a real opportunity to succeed in their avowed aim of ?doing a Somalia? on British forces in Sierra Leone.

 


COLONEL GS was in a rage. Walking down the line of British hostages, he jabbed each of them hard in the chest, spitting out a number from one to 11.

?Kneel,? he yelled in Creole. ?Go get down on your knees. You know what the numbers are for? That is the order in which we go start kill you. One for each hour the deadline no go met for our demands.?

It was day four of the crisis, and the West Side Boys were frustrated by the lack of response from Britain. One of their leaders, Colonel GS (for general staff) was taking his anger out on the hostages.

?Go na fetch my gun,? he barked at a boy soldier called Movement. The boy came hurrying back with an ancient but well-used AK-47 assault rifle. GS cocked it, patting it lovingly.

The hostages found themselves praying: ?Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come . . .?

?Which of these your men is actually stupid enough to believe that there is a God?? GS asked their commander, Major Alex Martial.

?We all are, colonel. Every man under my command believes there is a God.?

?Which of you really believe it enough to admit it and die?? Slowly and deliberately, Martial raised his hand. ?I do, colonel.?

There was a moment?s deathly silence. Then Captain Ed Flaherty, Martial?s second in command, raised his arm. So did Sergeant Mickey Smith, and within the space of a few seconds all the British soldiers had raised their hands. F*** it, they thought. The major had always said it would be all of them or none of them. They?d stick together, even if this was the end.

?Say the prayers, then, whiteboys,? the colonel sneered. ?You go have less than one hour left. We go see if this your God can save you now. Think about it. One hour. And then I go start the shooting.?

The kneeling men asked themselves what Martial was going to do. One of the youngest majors in the British Army, he was the only hostage with special forces training. In the hours after the ambush of his convoy on a jungle road, his ?conduct after capture? training had kicked into gear. He had made detailed mental notes of rebel weapons positions and fortifications with a view to escape. But he also behaved in a way that his training would have taught him not to.


Classic conduct after capture doctrine is that the quiet, unnoticed individual is the last person a captor might think of executing. Yet the major deliberately offered himself up as the focus of the rebels? anger and violence.

Now, Martial spoke up: ?Excuse me, colonel, but we have a tradition in England that a man who?s about to die is granted a last request. If you?re agreeable, I?d ask you to share a last drink with us.?

The hostages barely dared breathe. They were half expecting the colonel to grab his gun and shoot the major. Instead, an evil grin spread across his face.

?I like your idea,? he purred. ?A dying man?s last drink. Movement, go na fetch some drinks. The English men they want to go get drunk with us before we go kill them.?

Movement returned with plastic jerrycans of palm wine, a slimy, milky-white liquid generally full of dead insects. It is mildly alcoholic and tastes nauseating.

?Drink!? the colonel ordered.

Martial took a pull. ?Not quite Guinness,? he said, ?but not bad.?

The palm wine went down the line, followed by cartons marked rum, gin and whisky, each containing the same gut-wrenching liquid.

Ten minutes passed. A crowd of rebels gathered to join in the binge. Two of them chopped up cannabis and passed round joints. Others heated up heroin or crack cocaine.

The hour deadline came and went. Soon 30 or more West Side Boys were joining the party. There was no more talk of execution.

?Jesus, but that was a blinding move, sir,? Ranger Sandy Gaunt told the major as they crept away to their hut, leaving the Boys to party on through the night.

Next day Martial was even more of a hero in this young man?s eyes. The major was taken to meet two hostage negotiators who had flown in from London. He returned with news that some of the hostages would be exchanged for a satellite phone, which the rebels wanted so they could talk to the BBC. Martial said that the youngest and most junior of his men should be released ? Gaunt and three other Rangers, the lowest rank in the regiment.

?Bloody A, sir,? enthused Gaunt.

When the news came that the satphone had been delivered, the four Rangers scrambled to get their kit together. They were heading home. Then the major spoke up.

?Hang on a minute,? he said quietly. There had been a change of plan. Five men were being freed, but they were the older and more senior hostages. He was sorry, but he had decided to favour married men ?with wives and kids and families?. The young Rangers couldn?t believe their ears.

?What the f***! No way, sir!? ?Sir, youse it was who said it was the juniors . . .?

?We?ve all of us got families, sir . . .?

The four young men slumped onto the floor. Burn in shame, they thought bitterly. Burn in shame.

They watched the lucky ones file down to the canoe that was waiting to carry them to safety. Martial also went to the riverside, but he came striding back with the news that the rebels would not let two of the married men go: they were signallers needed for negotiations.

?Quickly, before the bloody boat leaves,? he urged the young men, ?get your names scribbled down on to a scrap of paper. The first two pulled out of a hat get to go.?

Gaunt lost the draw. So did his mate Gavin Rowell. They had been friends since boyhood in east Belfast. Now they would share whatever fate awaited them.

 


TWO mornings later, the major again showed his quixotic courage. The rebels? self-styled camp commandant ? a former mental patient dubbed ?Calm Down Fresh? by the hostages, as that was what his wife said to pacify him ? ordered Martial to speak to the BBC on the satphone to assure the world the hostages were all right.

He refused, to his men?s dismay.

?Just speak on it, sir,? Gaunt pleaded.

?Please, sir, he?s not f****** around,? Rowell urged. ?Just say a few words on the phone, sir.?

?Go on, sir. Go on.?

?I can?t, lads. I have to let them know that something?s wrong.?

?Come on, sir, surely it can?t do no harm.?

?I?m sorry, lads. We have to get the right sort of message out. Things are in a bad way right now. This is the only way I can think of doing it.?

Calm Down Fresh flew into a rage. He ordered the hostages to strip to their underwear and kneel.

A mob quickly gathered, and a savage free-for-all began as it bore down on the kneeling men. Women tore at the men?s hair. One grabbed a Ranger by his testicles and began to scream obscenities.

Enveloped in sweating bodies, the soldiers went down under the blows. All except Martial, who refused to buckle. Boots, fists and rifle butts rained down on him. Finally, he keeled over on to the ground, where the frenzied mob continued to kick and beat him.

Calm Down Fresh danced about, screaming: ?Refuse to speak to the BBC! Refuse to speak to the BBC!? The mob discussed raping the men before killing them.

The uproar had not gone unnoticed. Hidden 200 yards away, a Mancunian giant with the nickname of Mat was operating a dish-like SAS listening device similar to a satellite television aerial.

He could not see what was happening, but he had heard the shrieks of ?Refuse to speak to the BBC!?, and he now detected a small group of rebels heading out of the village. By the sound of things, they had at least one of the soldiers with them. Mat could make out the flip-flop of the rebels? sandals, and the heavier thud of a set of boots. They were ordering their captive to kneel.

?I think the bastards are about to top one of our boys,? Mat reported urgently. He tensed himself for a gunshot and the sound of a body hitting the ground. ?I can hear a gun being cocked now. Sounds like an AK. One of the bastards is saying he?s going to shoot him. No response from the hostage. Hold on! The bastard?s just pulled the trigger ? with no round up the spout. Mock execution. They?re all pissing themselves laughing.?

Mat heard the rebels call for Foday Kallay, the leader of the West Side Boys. But who was the prisoner? ?Hold on ? it?s Major Martial. I can hear it?s him ? he?s started talking to Kallay now. ?Came to see you to tell you to stop all the fighting,? he?s saying. ?Didn?t come with any bad intentions. If you kill us, it will be for no reason. Won?t do you any good. Spare the hostages? lives, and I can get the British to start giving you what you want. If you kill us, they will know about it very quickly. Give me three or four days. That?s all I ask. But you have to let me talk directly to the British hostage team.?

?Now Kallay?s replying. ?All right. But we need to see some of the things we are asking for being given. Need to know the British are serious. Otherwise . . .?

?Kallay?s ordering them to take the major back inside now. That was a close one. The major sounds on good form, though. Voice firm. Not shaking. Wasn?t begging, either. Just reasoning with them.?

Mat?s account had an electrifying effect when it reached British commanders. That night they moved to within a hair?s breadth of ordering the assault. It would only take one more move by the West Side Boys to trigger the rescue. There were two. When the rebels brought along three decapitated heads on poles (including a baby girl?s) to a hostage negotiation meeting, the British team began to realise that talking to such depraved people was pointless.

Then on Friday September 8, day 15 of the crisis, Mat and the SAS observation team overheard a large group of rebels preparing to seize the hostage negotiators and take more British prisoners. The negotiators were already approaching a meeting with the rebels when they got the warning. They could see the Boys were well armed and far more numerous than usual. They hurriedly turned back. An urgent message was sent to the British military?s Permanent Joint headquarters (PJHQ) in London and on to the prime minister in New York, where he was attending a United Nations summit. Within hours the message came back from Blair: proceed with the attack.

The following evening at Waterloo camp, the commander of D Squadron SAS told his men they would be going in with a force from the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) before dawn. ?And, gentlemen,? he said, ?Her Majesty?s government has made it very clear: you are to give those bastards a bloody nose.?

The men headed for the cookhouse tent before bed. With only hours to go there were now some troubling last-minute thoughts. How would they feel about shooting the many child-soldiers among the rebels, no older than their own kids? And would they survive an attack against such heavy odds?

Lance-Corporal Brad Tinnion wrote a letter home. He had hardly had time to say goodbye to Anna, his girlfriend, before leaving SAS headquarters at Hereford. He was looking forward to seeing their new baby on his return.

Very early the next morning, Sunday September 10, the hostages were asleep in their night quarters: a locked room in Calm Down Fresh?s single-storey house. They were jerked awake in the grey pre-dawn light by the faint throb of rotor blades reaching them on the chill jungle air. ?Any of youse hear what I hear?? Gaunt croaked.

?Choppers,? came a muttered reply.

?Who d?you think it is??

?Keep it down, lads,? the major hissed under his breath. ?It sounds like helis coming upriver. More than one, that?s for sure. ?

?But who is it, sir?? Gaunt hissed back, with rising panic. ?The f****** UN??

A few days previously, the West Side Boys had attacked a UN base manned by Nigerian peacekeepers. Was this a revenge attack? The noise grew louder but then gradually faded away.

?Maybe it was the UN, and they sort of lost their bottle, like,? Gaunt whispered. The six men settled again. But no sooner had they put their heads down than the noise returned.

?They?re coming back in again, and f****** fast this time.? A chopper roared in low. Suddenly all hell broke loose as heavy machineguns chewed into the village. The soldiers pressed their faces down into the dirt floor, their hands over their heads. ?F*** off out of here, why don?t youse just f*** off!?

Rowell screamed, his voice all but lost in the ear-splitting roar of gunfire. There was a deafening sound of tearing metal and splintering wood above them as the downdraught from a Chinook ripped the roof off the house. The soldiers cringed deeper into the dirt. Now they could hear the distinct crack-crack-crack of gunshots inside the house, very close to them. A boot smashed at their door. Oh, shite. Were the Boys about to burst into the room with murder in their eyes? There was a sharp splintering of wood as the door caved in. Martial yelled: ?British soldiers! British soldiers! British soldiers!? The figure silhouetted in the doorway shouted back: ?British Army! British Army! Stay down! Stay down! Stay on the floor.?

He took a step into the room and asked in a voice straining over the din of battle: ?Are you all here?? ?All six British,? the major replied. ?All except the Sierra Leonean, Corporal Mousa.? Mousa was a local soldier who had been kidnapped with them, but he had been separated from them and forced to endure his own horror, tied up in a pit of water. Martial had whispered encouragement to him whenever he could get near. He was now lying in his bindings behind Foday Kallay?s house.

?Where the hell is your Corporal Mousa, then?? ?Out the front door. Turn left. Large white building.? ?Right. Stay down. And here, take this,? the man ordered, handing the major a pistol. ?But no heroics. Only use it if you have to. And if you see any of our guys, keep it hidden. You don?t want to be seen with a weapon, okay? Now, I?ll be back in a jiffy with your Mousa.?

It was not so simple. The trussed-up Mousa had woken to the noise of the air armada. As the noise grew louder, he could hear Kallay raging. Kill all the hostages. ?Kill, kill, kill ? kill them all!?

Half a dozen men under the command of a rebel called Mr Die rushed off to the hostage house just as the sky exploded with gunfire, chewing up Kallay?s house. There was a screeching sound as the roof was ripped off and came crashing down on top of Mousa. He lay there for what felt like 15 minutes, listening to the Chinooks raining down death from above. Then he had heard the choppers withdrawing and Mousa thought the British attack had failed. Convinced that he would be executed, the corporal struggled to free himself. He got his hands behind his back up against a piece of torn galvanised roofing, and began to saw painfully on the ropes binding him. ?Mousa! Mousa!?

He could hear shouts getting nearer. Were the West Side Boys trying to find him so they could kill him?

?Mousa! Mousa!? They were British voices.

?Yes, I?m here! British soldier! Mousa is here!? There was a tearing at the galvanised sheeting above him.

?Don?t move or I shoot!?

A soldier towered above him, his white face daubed in black and green warpaint, his eyes raw red with aggression. He stuck his gun in Mousa?s face and shone a powerful torch beam in the corporal?s eyes.

?Right. What?s your f****** name!?

?It?s Mousa. Don?t shoot. It?s me, Mousa.?

The soldier lifted Mousa by the scruff of the neck.

?Again! What?s your name??

?Mousa. I?m Mousa . . . I?m Corporal Mousa. I . . . I?m one of the hostages.?

?All right, corporal, on your legs and follow me. And look smart now. I?m not f****** waiting.?

?I . . . I can?t move . . . My legs . . . my arms . . . I can?t move.? Crouching down, the soldier looked closer. ?Jesus, the evil bastards. They?ve given you a hard time, haven?t they, mate??

Taking a knife from his belt, he sliced through the ropes. Then he lifted Mousa up, slung him over his shoulder, resting the corporal?s weight on his bergen and an anti-tank rocket strapped to it, and grabbed his machinegun with his free hand.

?Geordie,? he yelled to another soldier, ?cover me, mate.?

And he set off at a run with Mousa on his shoulders, Geordie putting down covering fire. As Mousa was carried the 40-odd yards to the hostage house, he saw rebel bodies scattered in the long grass. A quick crack-crack-crack from Geordie?s gun and Mousa saw another of the rebels go down. These guys are good, he thought to himself. Each time they fire they find a target. Suddenly the British hostages were all around Mousa, embracing him. ?It?s all over,? said the grinning major. ?Time to be happy.?


IT WAS not all over for the SAS, however. The rebel gunfire was too inaccurate to be very effective, but even stray bullets could kill. As the rebels counterattacked, one of these rounds hit Brad Tinnion in the leg and the bullet slewed off the bone up into his body. He had taken cover like the rest of his fire team, but the round struck him from behind. It must have been a ricochet. Shock affects the wounded in different ways, and at first Tinnion seemed alert and was able to talk. Within minutes, a Chinook pilot braved direct hits from rebel gunfire to evacuate him. But halfway to the Sir Percival, a hospital ship docked at Freetown, Tinnion told the special force paramedic tending him: ?I?m f*****, mate . . . I just felt one lung collapse. I?m a gonner.? Tinnion knew what he was saying; he was his team?s medical specialist.

He left a message of love for Anna before passing out, and he died later that morning on the medical deck of the Sir Percival. It was 10.45am by the time the British helicopters lifted off from Gberi Bana with the last of the assault force on board ? leaving behind a gutted, deserted camp.

Tinnion was the only special forces soldier to die; but another nine were seriously wounded and almost all the 70-odd men taking part in the attack on Gberi Bana suffered minor wounds from stray battlefield ordnance. There were also nine badly hurt among a paratroop force that had carried out a diversionary attack on another rebel camp across the river. There were consolations, however, as D Squadron?s commander told his men after the battle. He expected the final casualty figure on the enemy side at Gberi Bana to be more than 100 dead. And ?the paras may have accounted for a similar number? in their separate battle.

Many of the rebels had been finished off at close range, and there were women and children among the dead. D Squadron had cleared up the bodies, because headquarters didn?t want the press crawling all over the village after the assault, recording what they?d been up to. If the SAS had been carrying out the same sort of operation in the centre of London ? like the Iranian embassy siege had been ? they would have faced all sorts of forensic questions afterwards.

But nobody was going to be brought to book for what they had done in Gberi Bana. As one member of D Squadron put it: ?We?d been sent in to eliminate a rebel base in the morning. That?s what we did. And we were back in time for tea in Hereford by the next evening.?

? Damien Lewis 2004 Extracted from Operation Certain Death by Damien Lewis published by Century at ?17.99. Copies can be ordered for ?14.39 + ?2.25 p&p from The Sunday Times Books First on 0870 165 8585 or at www.timesonline.co.uk/booksfirstbuy
Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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Operação Morte Certa: O SAS em Serra Leoa 06:00 – 07:00 10 de setembro de 2000

Os West Side Boys eram um milícia rebelde liderada pelo “Brigadeiro” Foday Kallay, um ex-oficial do exército e um notório assassino. Herança de uma violenta guerra civil, eles paralisaram Serra Leoa durante os anos 90, recrutando membros através do seqüestro e treinamento de crianças. Eles tinham esconderijos em selvas remotas, e financiaram seu arsenal com dinheiro dos “diamantes de sangue” – diamantes vendidos para financiar as atividades rebeldes e a guerra civil, e também o uso contínuo de álcool, maconha e heroína.

Em 25 de agosto de 2000, 11 membros do Regimento Real Irlandês e um oficial aliado do exército de Serra Leoa foram capturados em Occra Hills, um território dos West Side Boys.

Numerosas questões foram levantadas sobre as razões da vinda dos soldados britânicos a Serra Leoa. O exército alegou que eles estavam em uma missão autorizada para agir em conjunto com pacificadores jordanianos. Mas supõe-se que estavam em uma missão conjunta de inteligência que o exército queria ocultar das Nações Unidas, ou que teriam ido por iniciativa própria.

Dois dias depois que os reféns foram capturados, Kallay começou a enviar exigências, incluindo a renúncia do governo de Serra Leoa e a libertação de rebeldes presos. Depois de cinco dias de negociação, os membros mais novos do grupo britânico foram libertados.

Não havia dúvida de que os reféns restantes estavam em perigo – eles já haviam sido submetidos a execuções simuladas. O Tenente Musa Bangura, o oficial aliado do exército de Serra Leoa, em particular, havia recebido um tratamento ainda mais selvagem. Regularmente espancado até a inconsciência, ele estava à beira da morte quando o grupo foi finalmente resgatado de dezessete dias no inferno.

Desde o início, sabia-se que a Operação Barras – também apelidada de Operação Morte Certa pelos envolvidos – era altamente arriscada e poderia resultar em várias mortes. Diferente das operações secretas familiares às forças SAS, a Operação Barras era um ataque direto. Se descobertos, os helicópteros seriam alvos fáceis para os rebeldes fortemente armados.

A operação se baseava na coordenação, rapidez e no efeito surpresa para garantir a segurança dos reféns e o sucesso da missão. 

130 pára-quedistas do Regimento Pára-Quedista, com a cobertura de 70 membros da SAS, atacaram ao alvorecer. Em 20 minutos, todos os reféns foram resgatados e levados a um navio britânico ancorado na capital, Freetown.

A luta feroz entre os SAS e 200 membros do grupo rebelde resultou em no mínimo 25 mortes confirmadas entre os West Side Boys, e 18 membros capturados, incluindo seu líder, Foday Kallay.

Um pára-quedista britânico foi morto, e 12 ficaram feridos. Apesar das mortes, os chefes militares saudaram a missão como um sucesso espetacular. Apesar do primeiro objetivo ser o resgate dos reféns, e depois a captura de Kallay, a operação acabou destruindo completamente os West Side Boys.

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Operação Morte Certa: Os SAS em Serra Leoa – Contagem Regressiva – Linha do Tempo

Depois de passar 17 horas em cativeiro, e sobreviver a espancamentos e torturas, os prisioneiros percebem o som de um helicóptero se aproximando, sinalizando o começo do fim de seu martírio.

Uma operação militar precisa, envolvendo pára-quedistas e soldados da SAS, está a caminho, em uma tentativa ousada de ataque ao campo rebelde para resgatar os reféns.

A Operação Barras começa ao amanhecer, com 130 pára-quedistas e 70 membros da SAS, transportados em cinco helicópteros Chinook, em um ataque ao acampamento rebelde dos West Side Boys. A missão seria um sucesso absoluto – terminou em 20 minutos com o resgate dos reféns e a destruição do acampamento.

Os reféns do Royal Irish enfrentam outra execução simulada nas mãos de seus seqüestradores.

05:59  O dia começa no acampamento dos West Side Boys, e os reféns acordam para seu décimo-sétimo dia em cativeiro. Os rebeldes dormem sob o efeito das caixas de cerveja  fornecidas intencionalmente por negociadores ingleses no dia anterior.

06:07 Uma pequena equipe de reconhecimento se instala nos limites do acampamento nos cinco dias anteriores para assegurar que o caminho está livre por terra.

06:13 Helicópteros britânicos decolam e iniciam o vôo de 20 minutos para os pontos de aterrissagem previamente estabelecidos no acampamento dos West Side Boys, em Gberi Bana.

No acampamento, o líder dos West Side Boys, Foday Kallay, continua dormindo sobre dinheiro roubado, cocaína e 830 diamantes brutos.

06:36 A força de assalto da SAS faz contato visual com seu alvo. O artilheiro Brad Tinnion, um dos membros das equipes de resgate compostas por seis homens, é designado para alcançar os reféns antes que os West Side Boys possam matá-los.

O Oficial Comandante dos reféns, Major Alan Marshall, ouve a aproximação dos helicópteros e prepara seus homens. Os helicópteros Chinook deixam as equipes de resgate em terra e os reféns são evacuados.

06:39 Alguns dos rebeldes ouvem os helicópteros e correm para avisar Kallay. Kallay corre para fora e tenta reunir seus homens, mas é tarde demais.

Uma luta feroz se segue, matando mais de 60 membros do West Side Boys e também Brad Tinnion.

A cabana de Kallay é bombardeada e desmorona, e o líder rebelde se rende.

06:59 O ataque termina. Os reféns britânicos são evacuados em segurança, e o tenente Musa Bangura, que havia ficado preso entre os escombros quando a casa de Kallay desmoronou, é resgatado.

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Assunto: UK_SAS_OPERACOES_BARRAS