SAS Hostage Rescue in Sierra Leone

Background

Eleven members of the British Army's Royal Irish Regiment led by Major Alan Marshall and their Sierra Leone Army liaison officer, Lieutenant Musa Bangura were taken prisoner and held hostage by an armed rebel group known as the West Side Boys led by Foday Kallay on August 25, 2000. Some controversy exists regarding the mission of the British troops; British sources initially maintained that the soldiers were returning to Freetown from a meeting with Jordanian United Nations forces when they were captured. However, the Nigerian UN commander, General Garba, claims that the British soldiers never met with the Jordanian troops. British authorities later admitted that their soldiers may have been captured while deep in rebel territory.

On 3 September, five of the eleven British soldiers were released in exchange for a satellite phone and medical supplies. Further negotiations then broke down and Foday Kallay threatened to kill the remaining hostages. It was then that British Prime Minister Tony Blair authorised the mission.

The operation

At 6:16 a.m. local time on 10 September, three Chinook and three Lynx helicopters took off from the Freetown airport and headed for Rokel Creek, upon the banks of which was located the West Side Boys' camp. On the northern bank was the village of Geberi Bana, where the remaining British soldiers were being kept. On the opposite bank were two more villages,Magbeni and Forodugu, also occupied by the rebels. The Land Rovers used by the captured soldiers had been taken to Magbeni.

The attack on the rebel camps commenced at around 6:30 as the helicopters came in and disgorged troops almost simultaneously on both northern and southern target locations. In Geberi Bana, SAS observation teams, which had been inserted days before and had kept the rebels under surveillance ever since, began to engage them. The rescuers, SAS troopers, extracted the remaining six British soldiers and the Sierra Leonean Officer, Lieutenant Musa Bangura, within twenty minutes. They were flown out to the RFA Sir Percivale moored in Freetown harbour at about 7:00 that morning. In Magbeni, the Paratroopers engaged the awakened rebels. A second wave soon brought the Paras to full strength as they continued the assault. This attack diverted attention from the rescue mission on the opposite bank in Geberi Bana. Most of the action was over by 8:00, although the last British troops pulled out at 14:00 in the afternoon, after conducting mopping-up operations that saw the capture of Foday Kallay and the recovery of the Land Rovers.

British and allied units involved

  • 130 paratroopers from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment
  • 50 members of the SAS and the Special Boat Service.
  • Field Surgical Team from 16 Close Support Medical Regiment RAMC
  • Royal Irish Regiment
  • RFA Sir Percivale
  • HMS Argyll
  • HMS Argyll's Lynx helicopter
  • Three Boeing Chinook helicopters providing transport
  • Three Westland Lynx helicopters providing armed escort and close air support
  • One Mi-24 Hind gunship as air support, flown by Neall Ellis, a South African national contracted to do so
  • 3 members of the Tactical Communications Wing, Royal Air Force

Hostages

  • Major Alan Marshall
  • Captain Flaherty
  • CSM Head
  • Sergeant Smith
  • Lieutenant Musa Bangura
  • Corporal Sampson
  • Corporal Ryan
  • Corporal Mackenzie
  • Ranger Gaunt
  • Ranger McVeigh
  • Ranger Rowell
  • Ranger MaGuire

Casualties

  • 25 rebels confirmed killed although far more are thought to have died
  • 18 rebels captured including Foday Kallay
  • 1 British SAS soldier killed in action; identified as Bradley Tinnion
  • 12 British soldiers wounded (1 severely, 11 minor)

British gallantry awards for Operation Barras

All awards were gazetted with the date of 6 April 2001, however, some were not actually published for some time afterwards.

  • Distinguished Service Order
    • Major-General John Taylor Holmes OBE MC (Director Special Forces)
    • Brigadier David Julian Richards CBE (Joint Task Force commander)
  • Conspicuous Gallantry Cross
    • Colour Sergeant John David Baycroft MBE, Parachute Regiment
    • Squadron Leader Iain James McKechnie MacFarlane, Royal Air Force
  • Distinguished Service Cross
    • Captain George Michael Zambellas, Royal Navy
  • Military Cross
    • Warrant Officer Class 2 Harry William Bartlett, Parachute Regiment
    • Major James Robert Chiswell, Parachute Regiment
    • Captain Evan John Jeaffreson Fuery, Parachute Regiment
    • Acting Captain Daniel John Matthews, Parachute Regiment
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
    • Flight Lieutenant Timothy James Burgess, Royal Air Force
    • Squadron Leader Iain James McKechnie MacFarlane, Royal Air Force
    • Captain Allan Laughlan Moyes, Army Air Corps
    • Flight Lieutenant Jonathan Priest, Royal Air Force
    • Flight Lieutenant Paul Graham Shepherd, Royal Air Force
  • Queen's Gallantry Medal
    • Major Philip James Conyers Ashby, Royal Marines, for services in May 2000

In addition to the gallantry awards a number of other decorations and honours were given, ranging from appointments to the Order of the British Empire to Mentions in Despatches and the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service.