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Sunday, 23 September, 2001, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
SAS 'clash with Taleban'
A boy sits by soldiers in Peshawar in Pakistan
Tension is mounting on Pakistan's north-west frontier
The Ministry of Defence has refused to discuss reports that an SAS unit was fired on by Taleban soldiers in the foothills near Kabul.

The four-man reconnaissance team escaped unhurt after disturbing Taleban troops near the Afghan capital, the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times reported.

Both papers reported that the SAS had been in the country for five days and had already linked up with anti-Taleban rebels of the Northern Alliance.

There is a lot of speculative material floating around.

An MoD spokesman told BBC News Online the reports could not be confirmed or denied, citing "operational matters".

He said: "There is a lot of speculative material floating around. We never discuss matters pertaining to the special forces.

"At the moment Britain is in the phase of looking at what assistance we can offer to the US if they decide to take military action. That is where the bulk of our efforts lies."

Pre-planned manoeuvres

But the MoD has confirmed that a Royal Navy fleet of 13 ships, including the nuclear submarine HMS Superb, has passed through the Suez canal.

RAF Tornados
RAF Tornados are joining the operation in the Gulf
The craft are still officially due to take part in a series of manoeuvres in Oman, codenamed Saif Sareea II (Swift Sword), which was planned well before the terror attacks.

Almost 20,000 British armed forces personnel were due to take part, although there has been widespread speculation that they will be the first to be redirected to Afghanistan.

Seven RAF Tornados left RAF Marham in Norfolk on Sunday morning to take part in the exercise and join others based in the region.

Falklands-scale deployment

An MOD spokeswoman said the planes were among the last to leave Britain to take part in the operation.

US military planes have landed in Uzbekistan on the northern border of Afghanistan and they continue to mass air and sea power in the region.

The British Armed Forces operation began earlier this month and sees the biggest Royal Navy deployment since the 1982 Falklands conflict.

Regiments from the RAF and Army make up the task force which includes aircraft carriers, tanks, helicopters, amphibious landing craft and jets.

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