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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 18:25 GMT
UK's mountain warfare elite
The troops of 3 Commando Brigade were said to be on standby for deployment to Afghanistan as early as November last year.
They are ideally suited to fighting in that country's harsh conditions as the brigade specialises in mountain and cold weather warfare.
A core component of the UK's Joint Rapid Reaction Force, it is on permanent readiness to deploy across the globe.
The brigade - currently on military exercise in Oman - has about 3,500 troops divided into three battalion-sized units of infantry soldiers.
These are 40 Commando based in Taunton, 42 Commando in Plymouth and 45 Commando in Arbroath.
The origins of the brigade can be traced back to the formation of the first commando units in 1940, at the request of then-Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.
He called for "specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down on these [enemy occupied] coasts".
The emphasis was on daring, tough soldiers, who were extremely proficient in small unit tactics and stealthy approaches - often upon heavily defended targets.
In 1956 the brigade took part in the Anglo-French Suez invasion, an operation which saw the first use by UK forces of helicopters in the assault role.
Its troops were amongst the first to be drafted into Northern Ireland in 1961 and have served there almost every year since.
In 1982 the brigade engaged in the most important conflict in its history - the Falklands War.
With other components of the Royal Marines, the brigade sailed for the Falkland Islands within five days of being warned for operations, and staged an extremely successful amphibious landing.
The brigade fought throughout the six-week campaign in mountainous territory, which culminated with the surrender of the Argentinian forces on the island.
The Royal Marines' success in this conflict prompted a defence ministry rethink on budget-cutting plans which could have spelled an end for the amphibious forces.
And in post-Cold War conditions, the brigade has been keeping busy.
In Operation Safe Haven in 1991, the brigade protected Kurdish Iraqi refugees stranded in the mountains between Northern Iraq and Turkey.
1994 saw 45 Commando deployed to the Kuwaiti border to deter Iraq.
Elements of the brigade were deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina throughout the 1990s.
In spring 2000 the brigade headed out on HMS Ocean - the vast helicopter-carrier on which it is carrying out its Omani exercises - to help evacuate British nationals from Sierra Leone.
The brigade spent six months in Kosovo in the same year, leading multi-national troops on Operation Agricola IV.
And it continues to carry out regular Arctic climbing and mountain exercises in Norway - the only British troops to do so.
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