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No VC‘s for Afghanistan

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Secret medals for unsung heroes of the SAS and SBS
By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 29/10/2002) The Telegraph

Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) troops hailed for their bravery
in operations against al-Qa‘eda and Taliban fighters during the war in Afghanistan have won a dozen top military gallantry awards.

Members of the SAS, SBS and the Royal Air Force squadrons that fly their
aircraft are awarded four Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses, five Military
Crosses and three Distinguished Flying Crosses today.

The list of those honoured for their work in Afghanistan also includes
British diplomats, at least one of whom is believed to have been a member of

Britain‘s secret service used a number of agents originally developed during
the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the complex negotiations that led to
the rapid demise of the Taliban regime in northern Afghanistan.

Gen John McColl, who commanded the International Security Assistance Force
in Kabul is awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his handling of the
interim Afghan government.

None of the members of the SAS, SBS, or the RAF‘s 7 and 47 Sqns is named in
today‘s announcement, which gives details of all awards to ordinary
servicemen and women before ending with an anonymous list of "other honours
awarded" to cover the special forces.

It was initially thought that at least two of the SAS troops would be
awarded the Victoria Cross and although there are four CGCs, the next
highest award, the lack of a VC will be seen by members of the SAS and SBS
as evidence that whatever they do they are unlikely to receive the highest
award for gallantry.

The servicemen involved were warned earlier this year that they would not be
receiving the VC despite the fact that their deeds clearly qualified under
any sensible interpretation of the criteria.

The warrant for the VC makes only two immutable stipulations: that the
recipient shows conspicuous bravery or devotion to his country in the
presence of the enemy; and that there should be "conclusive proofs".

Over the years, the latter has been taken to mean that the act of courage
should be witnessed by a superior officer, something that is much less
likely to happen in a special forces operation than in conventional warfare.

One special forces source said that there had long been a general acceptance
at the SAS headquarters in Hereford that members of the regiment were
unlikely to receive the VC.

The two members of the SAS who were initially expected to receive the VC
were involved in an assault on an al-Qa‘eda cave system last November in
which four members of the SAS were wounded.

One was the sergeant major who led the operation by a complete squadron of
about 60 men to take the caves in which al-Qa‘eda terrorists were hiding and
was himself wounded.

The other member of the SAS who was expected to receive the VC was at the
other end of the cave complex waiting to bring down direct air attacks on
any terrorists attempting to escape.

He is to receive his honour because he waited so long before ordering in the
air attack that he was wounded by, and risked being killed by, the allied

At least one member of the SBS was also thought to be in line for a VC. The SBS senior NCO led a patrol of half a dozen SBS commandos who rescued a CIA officer from the Qala-i-Jangi prison near Mazar-i-Sharif in November last year.

TO SAY THE TROOPS ARE NOT HAPPY IS PUTTING IT MILDLY. The considered opinion within both regiments is that the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has stepped in to downgrade the three recommendations for the Victoria Cross, in all three cases the recommendation for each is without a doubt of the degree of courage and leadership of soldiers which is required of the VC - unfortunately all three men are alive - it would have been much more politically correct if they had been killed and the award could then have been gazetted posthumerously!!!

Jock in Sydney