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International Counter-Terrorism: British Special Air Service (SAS)

Special Projects Team - Special Air Service (SAS)
a/k/a: Counter Revolutionary Warfare Squadron (CRW)

Founded: 1942
Headquarters: Sterling Lines, Hereford, UK (soon to relocate to RAF Credenhill)

The British Special Air Service (SAS) is perhaps the best known special operations group in existence today. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Special Projects (SP) team of the Special Air Service is perhaps the best known counterterrorist organization in the world. The SP team is normally made up of approximately 80 personnel who are divided into four troops of sixteen men. And while the SP operates similarly to the other squadrons during periods of training, the picture changes significantly when a terrorist incident occurs. In these instances, a segment of the alert troop is broken down into a surveillance/sniper unit, while the remaining soldiers form the assault group.

An explanation is required. The SP squadron is not a permanent entity. Instead, all SAS squadrons are rotated through CT duty, via the Counterrevolutionary Warfare section (the SP team is commonly misidentified as the CRW Squadron). These CRW duty training cycles normally last six months. Contributing to the skill of the SAS is the Operations Research Unit which develops unique equipment for use by the SP team. It is this unit that developed the now-widely used stun ("flash-bang") grenade. Other equipment included specialized ladders for train and airplane assaults, night vision goggles, and audio/video equipment.

Unlike most special operations groups, the SAS rotates all of its squadrons through CRW duty. Because of this, all SAS operatives are considered counterterrorist-qualified and refresher training is constant.

Organizationally, the Special Projects unit is broken down into 65-man Red and Blue Teams, each with snipers and EOD trained experts. SAS proficiency in firearms, already very high, is refined for close quarters battle in the "Killing House". The basic course is six weeks, during which troopers may fire in excess of 2,000 rounds. This skill is further enhanced during a squadron's SP duty. Adding an element of realism to the training is the use of live personnel as hostage during room clearing operations. SAS counterterrorist and hostage rescue training is facilitated by the highest members of the UK government, many of whom (including the Prime Minister) take part in actual training exercises. A Royal Air Force C-130 remains on standby at RAF Lyneham at all times should the unit require its services.

The SAS has engaged in antiterrorist operations, mostly in Northern Ireland, although reports have pointed to SAS activity in Libya as well. There are a number of organizations worldwide who also use the SAS name, such as the New Zealand SAS and the Australian SAS. There is some debate as to when Britain's other legendary special operations group, the Special Boat Service (SBS) would be used in the counterterrorist role. This issue is still a matter of speculation, however some experts speculate that the SBS would not be deployed unless a large scale terrorist incident occurred which tapped the SAS beyond their personnel levels. SAS and SBS are known to have deployed together on a bomb scare involving the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II. In any case, maritime operations are not a skill which the SAS has forgone.

Each squadron maintains its own Boat Troop who devote their time to It is possible to envision such an incident occurring, however. Such an instance might be the simultaneous hijacking of two or more oil rigs in the North Sea.

This event is not beyond the realm of possibility and indeed is an occasion for which the SAS and SBS have trained. There does exists a high degree of respect and cooperation between the two groups in spite of the fact that SAS does garner the lion's share of the attention.

For all of the reasons listed above, the SAS is the most sought after exchange partner in the world of counterterrorism. Their troopers have trained other troopers from all of the following organizations: The United States' Delta Force, the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), France's GIGN, Germany's GSG-9, Spain's GEO, the Royal Dutch Marines, and the SAS groups from Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. In return, these organizations have allowed British SAS members to train along side their own units in a reciprocal swap of information. These exchange programs have had the effect of raising counterterrorist skills worldwide to higher and higher levels. For as good as the SAS is, they have always been the first to state that they still have skills they can improve on and as a result are always on the lookout for a better way to do things. It has also been documented that at least one or two SAS personnel have been present at every major counterterrorist operation involving a friendly country in recent memory.

Their presence has oftentimes been in an official advisory role, but ex-SAS members have revealed that the group has often sent men to the scene of an incident, just to learn as much as they can about the success or failure of an operation. This information is, in turn, brought back to Hereford where it is disseminated and applied accordingly.

Having said this, it is interesting to note that rumors abound of a deep-seated distrust of the Israelis, another of the world's best. Due to this sentiment, the SAS for a time refused to engage in any sort of training or exchange program. This is no longer the case, and the two units enjoy a good, if low-visibility, relationship.

Most recently, at least six SAS men, two officers and four senior NCOs were sent to Lima Peru in December 1996 to provide assistance and advice to the Peruvian government prior to the April 1997 assault which resulted in the rescue of 71 of the 72 remaining hostages.

Sources: The Terrorism Research Center