Sierra Leone: Deliver A Blow

During the bloody civil war of Sierra Leone, the United Nations sent a peacekeeping force to try and stem the flow of blood from the vicious fighting between rebel factions and the civilian population. Everyone old enough to carry a gun was a target, an enemy or a potential soldier for the rebels.

A particularly blood-thirst outfit, calling themselves the West Side Boys and modelling themselves on American rappers, operated out of the Occra Hills and had control of the surrounding area. In September of 2000, the West Side Boys captured a British Army patrol and held them captive in one of their camps. Fearing for their lives, and possibly insulted by their actions, Prime Minister, Tony Blair, sent in the “Magic Dust” to make the problem go away. The SAS were tasked with rescuing the British hostages and then delivering a blow to the West Side Boys. As far as Dean Reagan was concerned, this meant only one thing: kill every one of the rebel soldiers.

Here’s a sample:

This is an account of the part a number of soldiers played in Operation Barras – the SAS-led mission to rescue British military hostages in Sierra Leone – in September 2000. It is built from research I conducted over a period of years and is constructed from interviews from both sides of the fence – ex rebel soldiers included – into the skirmish. Barras is widely recognised as the most daring, successful and outrageous assault in the history of the Regiment and let’s face it, that’s no mean feat.

It’s true to say that it was daring, some might say even a little gung-ho, it was most certainly an outrageous mission. It was also pretty successful. The men of the UK Special Forces (UKSF) and the supporting paratroopers did what they were asked to do with very few casualties sustained on the side of the British Army and every one of the soldiers I have spoken to found the fight exciting. Over these pages you’ll see it was more exciting than you could probably imagine; in fact, when the soldiers who have recounted the tale recall the heat of battle, they often smile to themselves at the thought that maybe they shouldn’t be here now.

As the author I often think about the group of men Britain had on her side who took on the challenge of Barras and I think also of the men of the Regiment who are no longer with us: those who have been killed in subsequent operations or accidents the world over. It’s a crying pity, but it’s also part of the job and every one of the men knows the risks when they make the decision to go for Selection (the selection process, which is a test for mental and physical endurance which you must complete to qualify for the SAS) to see if they can match up to the best the world – yes, the world – has to offer. Make no mistake here: the SAS is the best soldiering force in the world and they continue to perform virtual miracles where virtual miracles should not be performed.

I have grouped together the accounts of a number of men on the ground that day who performed their duty to the best of their ability and came out of it winners. Some of the team were bruised, some were injured and one member of the force gave his life for what he fought for: his Queen and country. This story is compiled of different soldiers’ accounts and tells different tales, however, I have woven them into a single, first person narrative and given that narrative a name.

This man is my soldier: he is all soldiers and he is no soldier, he is present and he is past. You will see Dean Reagan crop up in other tales from the Gulf war as his voice represents many but for this mission, he was one of the first men to hit the ground in the rebel camp after leaping into the unknown from a hovering helicopter. He was amongst the first men through the door into the house where the hostages were being held. He was the bringer of rapid death who himself also faced death and had no qualms about either. Some soldiers will distance themselves from my soldier’s voice, and that’s fine. Most will recognise at least a little bit of themselves in him. He has served in the UK, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan and he has brought much death upon his enemy.

You will find remarks within these chapters that make it seem like these soldiers wanted to fight, like they wanted to shoot and kill, as though they got a kick out of it in some way and it may distress some readers. Again, make no bones about it; that is true of a lot of soldiers, not only those of the SAS and SBS. Along the way, there are personality changes, personal realisations and character growth, but in essence, what does a man think he’s going to do when he signs up to join the Army? He wants to fight. He wants the adrenaline. He wants the rush and the thrill of “kill or be killed”. When that man joins the Special Forces he wants to prove – not to others, but to himself – that he is amongst the best, most elite soldiers on the planet, that he is worthy of the sand coloured beret and believe me, doing that relies far more on mental capacity than physical strength. It also involves him pitting his wits against some of the most dangerous enemy forces on the planet and yes; he also wants to eliminate those enemies. He wants to kill them by any means necessary.

In this book you will read accounts of heroism, bravery, hard work, determination and dedication to the task in hand. I’ve read, heard and seen various accounts of Operation Barras and to be honest, I know some of the men feel more than a little betrayed by most of them. Barras was not an operation carried out by chest-thumping, screaming and whooping wannabe Supermen and there were no superheroes fighting on Britain’s side. They were nothing more than mortal men and to say otherwise would be an insult to the memory of those who have laid down their lives in service and combat. There were no monsters, I promise you, only hard-trained and well-rehearsed soldiers who knew what they were doing and who had the ability to go beyond the call of duty and both physical and mental fatigue. That is what makes the SAS and SBS the best. I dedicate this book to those soldiers in the Regiment; the best soldiers on the planet. Every right thinking British citizen holds each one of you dear.

I know perfectly well that this book will bring on the shaking of heads around the barracks in Hereford and that’s a shame, but I make no apologies for the story being told, because those people will shake their heads at any story, TV show, documentary or book that is made or written about the Regiment. I have watched politicians spout on, write books, appear on TV documentaries and tell all, and they are free to do so. The men of the UK Special Forces are not allowed to do that. So I am doing it for them. Let me make it plain here, that this is not an SAS man’s story. This is the story of Operation Barras. There is a notion amongst serving SAS or SBS men that former colleagues have “sold out” when a book is written about a particular assault or mission. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) banned the initial version of this book in 2008 when an SAS soldier (identified in the Royal Courts of Justice as “Soldier X”) and I stood before the Royal Courts of Justice and we were gagged. We had no legal representation and were bulldozed into signing a gagging order. In order to pursue this book’s publication I have had to remove that former SAS soldier’s words, which I have done. His words no longer play any part whatsoever in this book. Even without his words, my research has given me a unique insight into the mission and into the Regiment. I have spoken to former Parachute Regiment soldiers who were not gagged by a non-disclosure contract, as well as former rebels in Sierra Leone and that has allowed me to give as reliable an account as I already had, albeit with Soldier X’s words removed.

All I intend with this book is to put across the story about what happened on Operation Barras from a different perspective to that of the politicians and officers, who seem to be above gagging orders for some reason. I’d also like to show the respect I have for the men of the Regiment, as well as for the incredible force who are the Paras. I disclose no Official Secrets and I reveal no serving or former soldiers’ identities. I have changed the names, descriptions and identities of every soldier I have ever been in contact with (as well as those on the mission) in order to preserve both their identities and their safety. I also interviewed members of the West Side Boys and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who are still wanted in some quarters and it was their information that gave me such a unique insight into how they operated and how their thought process worked. Their identity too, has been altered and their names changed in order to protect them from reprisals.

Meet my soldier. His name is Dean Reagan.

You can read the full story here on Kindle or in paperback.