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SAS trained on Iraq's border a year ago

March 18 2003
By Tom Allard

Australian SAS troops training Kuwaiti special forces last February.

Australia's SAS were training near Iraq more than a year ago, honing their skills in reconnaisance, sabotage and close combat and tutoring the locals in the arts of special operations warfare.

The Age has obtained photos of members of No. 1 squadron SAS Regiment taken last February in Kuwait showing them training Kuwaiti special forces in counter-terrorism techniques and the use of weapons. The photographs came through unofficial channels and the faces of commandos have been obscured to conceal their identities.

With war looming, the SAS will probably be deep inside Iraq within days, travelling in small teams in long-range patrol vehicles or motorcycles and slipping behind enemy lines.

But what were they doing in Kuwait a year ago? A Defence Department spokesman said the training was part of a defence relationship between the Australian and Kuwaiti military forces and was not related to "current world events".

The main operation for the SAS at the time was Afghanistan and Kuwait is believed to have been used as a training and command base for Australia. The spokesman said the Kuwaitis were not being trained for the Afghanistan conflict.

Nevertheless, the work with the Kuwaitis came as the US was already quietly laying the logistical and diplomatic groundwork in the expectation that conflict in Iraq would come soon after Afghanistan.

The Australian Defence Force rarely allows the SAS to be photographed. Details of their operations are so secret that, even after a battle has been fought, the public will be told little, if anything, of what happened.

The Age revealed last week that their main task in Iraq would be using their highly regarded skills in stealth to locate mobile chemical and biological laboratories. They will also be looking for the artillery and missiles that could be used against coalition forces advancing from Kuwait.

Coalition commanders are deeply worried that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons that he has concealed from UN weapons inspectors and will use them in a desperate bid to save his regime from the overwhelming force that will be applied by the US-led war effort.

The Federal Government deployed a 150-strong contingent of SAS to the Middle East earlier this year to prepare for an Iraq conflict, as well as a large support team including Chinook helicopters and a ready reaction commando force drawn from Sydney's 4th Royal Australian Regiment to extract them if their cover were blown and they came under attack from Iraqi troops.

Most of the SAS and the commandos are in Kuwait, as are members from the Incident Response Regiment (IRR) who are experts in decontamination and medical treatment should the feared weapons of mass destruction attacks occur.

The regiment has been helping to train troops during regular chemical-suit drills.

Australia's SAS are regarded as among the finest special forces in the world.

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