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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 11:53 GMT
The secretive sister of the SAS
Royal Marines on exercise in Oman
The Special Boat Service has been deployed
'Not by strength, by guile' is the motto of one of the Armed Forces most secretive elite units - the Special Boat Service (SBS).

With their specialist training and expertise, its members are likely to prove invaluable in Afghanistan.

They have a lot of the required skills such as explosives expertise and knowledge of sabotage, demolition and beach reconnaissance

Rupert Pengelley
About 100 of its recruits are now in Bagram near Kabul.

The naval-based unit's role will be to secure the airport and make it safe for further humanitarian and diplomatic missions to the area.

Gruelling selection

Little is revealed about the unit which has strong links to its better known counterpart the SAS.

Paddy Ashdown
Paddy Ashdown was a former member of the elite unit
Members of the Royal Marines are chosen to join the elite band of SBS members only after a gruelling physical and mental selection process.

The focus of their operations tends to be from the sea but they also operate inland, according to Rupert Pengelley, group technical editor for the Jane's Information Group.

As to why they were picked for this mission to Kabul, he said: "It could have been the case that they were available.

"They have a lot of the required skills such as explosives expertise and knowledge of sabotage, demolition and beach reconnaissance."

The unit is traditionally made up of the cream of the crop of skilled swimmer canoeists, of which one of its most famous ex-members is Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

But they are also trained for parachuting and high-speed rope deployments from helicopters.

Intelligence gathering

Their signalling and intelligence gathering skills are also likely to prove vital to the coalition operation.

One of their most high profile operations was the liberation of the British Embassy in Kuwait, at the end of the Gulf War.

More recently they have been involved in operations in East Timor and Sierra Leone.

But Mr Pengelley said: "Even in peacetime they are permanently involved in operations."

Among their roles has been the protection of North Sea oil rigs and the fight against the drugs trade.

The unit's origins can be dated to World War II, when various groups within the Armed Forces dealt with the sabotage of merchant ships in the Mediterranean, he said.

Small teams of Royal Marines also blew up and destroyed tunnels and Nazi warships in the French port of Bordeaux.

The SBS itself was formed in 1940 and with its headquarters in Poole, Dorset.

It is divided into three elite groups - C, M, and S Squadron.

C Squadron is responsible for swimmer and canoe operations, M Squadron is responsible for maritime anti-terrorism and ship boarding operations and S Squadron specialises in small water borne craft and mini-sub operations.

Within M Squadron is the small Black Group, the counter-terrorist team that uses helicopter-borne assaults.

But its role remains closely linked with that of the SAS with many of its members reporting to the same chain of command.

The 100 chosen to go out to Bagram will join the SAS who have already been operating in Afghanistan for some time.

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See also:

15 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Blair upbeat on Afghan situation
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