Largest raid by British special forces after World War II

The 2001 raid on al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Afghanistan was the largest and boldest operation by the British Special Forces (SAS) in nearly 60 years.

The British Special Forces Air Force (SAS) is considered one of the most elite forces in the world. During the war in Afghanistan in 2001, units A and G of the 22nd SAS Regiment conducted Britain’s largest raid since World War II.

In late 2001, British intelligence discovered an opium production facility located about 12 km from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which was used as a headquarters for al-Qaeda terrorist group as well as Taliban fighters. From news sources, they know about 60-100 gunmen are always present to protect this facility.

The US at that time did not want to send troops to attack this facility, because their priority was to find terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Washington assesses that there are no high-value targets in the region.

British special forces soldiers deployed in Afghanistan in 2001. Photo: War History.

British special forces deployed in Afghanistan in 2001. Photo: War History.

British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, fully supported the SAS to carry out a raid on al-Qaeda’s headquarters, seeing it as an opportunity to gather a lot of important intelligence and deal a blow to the terrorist group. .

The mission was approved under the codename Operation Trent. The US Air Force could only send a few fighters to support, because the need for fire support on the Afghan battlefield was still very large at that time. SAS special forces also have to operate during the day, as opposed to the secret nighttime raid method they often conduct.

The campaign took place around the end of November 2001. The night before the attack, the eight-man combat team from the G team secretly parachuted into the expected gathering area to prepare the landing area for the C-130 transport.

After that, the main group of teams A and G were transported by 6 C-130 mechanical transports to the gathering point in two waves. The plane did not land, but just flew close to the ground and lowered the ramp at the rear, allowing the special forces to drive out of the cargo hold and land. This process takes about 30 minutes.

During the landing, a Land Rover lost its engine and was unable to fight, forcing the three soldiers on the vehicle to stay on guard. Others moved during the night, crossing a distance of nearly 200 km to the target. Then they took a position to wait until it was time to attack.

Before the raid, the US Navy’s F/A-18 and F-14 fighter jets conducted airstrikes on the opium facility. At 7 am, SAS special forces control the vehicle to rush to the target at maximum speed. Spotting the dust from the convoy, the al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters began firing AK and RPG anti-tank guns at the British special forces.

Team G suppressed the enemy with machine guns, anti-tank missiles and sniper rifles, while Team A approached the target with the support of American F/A-18 fighters.

Team A then divided into groups of two to close the target, applying the strategy of one person shooting, one person moving to neutralize the al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Thanks to the firepower from the fighters and the constant maneuverability, Team A opened the way to the enemy headquarters.

They ransacked the command building and gathered all the intelligence material on the spot. After two hours, both task teams withdrew to the assembly area and waited for the American helicopter to pick them up. Four SAS soldiers were wounded during the operation, but their lives were not in danger.

Operation Trent was considered a success, as Team A obtained two laptops and many important documents, for future raids in Afghanistan. The British military did not release specific statistics, but it was reported that 73 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting.

After the operation, a number of soldiers from Team A and G were awarded with prestigious medals for their contribution to the success of the mission.

Duy Son (Theo War History)

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