Daring Nighttime Raid: UK’s Special Air Service Rescued its Own From Taliban-Seized Kandahar

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A Royal Air Force Hercules C-130 lands during a mission to Cyprus, on August 14, 2014. C-130’s, such as this one participating in an aid drop to stranded Yazidi refugees in Iraq, are reliable and tough.
A Royal Air Force Hercules C-130 lands during a mission to Cyprus, on August 14, 2014. C-130’s, such as this one participating in an aid drop to stranded Yazidi refugees in Iraq, are reliable and tough. (Image: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images)

According to the Daily Mail, a group of 20 elite Special Air Service (SAS) forces sent a distress signal to the British military when Kandahar fell to the Taliban. The Mail reports that the stranded SAS could not use the Kandahar airfield resources because the airstrip was overrun by the militants. The 20 SAS soldiers reportedly fought their way to a secret location to hide and “coordinates of the location were then relayed back to Special Forces headquarters in Britain in a series of coded messages,” Mail reports. 

Acting from headquarters, SAS sent a crew in a Hercules C-130J for the daring nighttime extraction raid. The Mail reports that the crew turned off their Friend or Foe sensors on their flight towards Afghanistan when over the Gulf on August 25, and executed a ‘textbook’ dark landing in the rough terrain of the partially secured Panjshir Valley, wearing night-vision goggles, according to a source. The source said: ‘’It was a very hush, hush mission. Kandahar had fallen to the Taliban on Friday and the guys were down there for five days after that. The enemy was rampant and killing a lot of Afghan Special Forces whom the SAS had been working with. So it was a very urgent mission.’” By the following morning, the C-130J reappeared on radar approaching a Dubai military base.

Landscape of the Panjshir Valley, May 21, 2009, in Afghanistan.
The landscape of the Panjshir Valley, May 21, 2009, in Afghanistan. (Image: Reza/Getty Images)

While the RAF carried out the extraction mission into enemy territory, the clock was running out in Afghanistan towards the now-past August 31 deadline when US troops left the country. According to the Mail, British military commanders “understood” August 25 to be the last day they could process refugees. This daring event is one of the more harrowing reports to date, however, French and German, as well as the British military, were actively going out into Kabul in the final days to extract evacuees. Meanwhile, US forces were under strict orders not to leave the Kabul airport. There are reports of private efforts by US veterans who formed groups to actively extract Americans, including “Operation Pineapple Express”, which also used the cover of darkness on the same night to extract endangered residents; unlike the RAF mission, this was reportedly in defiance of the US government. 

In London, British PM Boris Johnson has said that if people are left behind who qualify for protection in the UK, “What I would say to them is that we will shift heaven and earth to help them get out, we will do whatever we can in the second phase.” The Prime Minister later repeated his warning to the Taliban that engagement with the west was contingent on allowing people out of the country who wished to leave. 

Recent reports from CNN detail further portions of the Panjshir valley have now been overtaken by the Taliban. According to one social media posting, upon overtaking one of these areas, the Taliban forced middle-aged men to walk minefields in order to clear them. Resistance continues to fight in Panjshir led by Ahmad Massoud, who says the Taliban are not as capable as rumored.

SAS is the UK’s most elite special service force, enjoying considerable fame, much like Navy Seals. They operate under the motto ‘Who Dare Wins’. A contingent of 40 members of the SAS has requested to stay behind to fight ISIS-K after the terrorist group claimed responsibility for last week’s Kabul airport blast, which killed 170 people. There will be more to report on this as the story develops.