Pubdate: Sun, 16 Apr 2006
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2006
Author: Sean Rayment
Bookmark: (Heroin)


British Commanders In Afghanistan Are Planning The First Operational  
Parachute Assault Into "Enemy Territory" Since The Suez Crisis,  
Writes Sean Rayment.

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Senior officers hope that a  
"dramatic show of force" will deter attacks against British troops  
when they begin anti-drug operations later this year.

By the end of this month, most of the 3,300 strong British force -  
including 650 members of the 3rd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment  
- - will have arrived in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan,  
a former stronghold of the Taliban.

It is understood that Army commanders want to demonstrate to Afghan  
warlords and drugs barons that they have the capability to drop 650  
heavily armed men, supported by Apache attack helicopters, virtually  
anywhere in the country.

If the mission goes ahead, the troops will jump from Hercules C130  
transport aircraft at a height of between 250 and 300 feet and will  
be ready to fight within seconds of hitting the ground.

A Parachute Regiment officer confirmed that the troops would be  
taking their parachute equipment to Afghanistan and said that senior  
officers had a "very real desire" to carry out an airborne assault.  
One officer said: "Airborne assaults are very high-risk operations.  
There is a thin line between success and disaster.

"An airborne assault on to a poppy field would send out a powerful  
message of intent. But if there is any intelligence that the enemy  
may have surface-to-air missiles, then it would not go ahead."

The last time British troops took part in a airborne assault was  
during the Suez crisis of 1956 when soldiers from 3 Para jumped into  
the El Gamil airfield in Egypt as part of an Anglo-French operation  
to capture the Suez canal.

The crisis grew out of the British decision to join France and Israel  
in a bid to prevent the Egyptian President, Gen Gamal Abdel Nasser,  
from nationalising the Suez canal in the autumn of 1956.

Despite heavy opposition, 660 members of the 3 Para Group conducted a  
textbook airborne assault at 4.15am on November 6, 1956. Within four  
and a half minutes, they were ready to fight.

However, the military action provoked a furious response from  
America. President Eisenhower's condemnation forced the government to  
withdraw from the venture. The episode resulted in the resignation of  
the prime minister, Anthony Eden.
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