During current operations in Afghanistan British paratroopers have jumped into action for the first time since the 1956 Suez crisis, reports Dave Cassan.
The men, from the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, 1 PARA, were part of the part of the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) and had undertaken the drop during actions against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.
The SFSG was formed on 3 April 2006, to provide assistance to the SAS and SBS on operations. This work could include diversionary tactics, protective cordons and additional fire power. Initially drawing on personnel from the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment, service in the SFSG is now open to all personnel in the British armed forces who have passed the Pre-Parachute Selection Course run by either of the Parachute Regiment or the RAF, or the Royal Marines’ Commando Course.
A senior MoD source indicated that more than 100 paratroopers had taken part in the missions – in this the Parachute Regiment’s 70th anniversary year. The drops were approved after commanders in theatre highlighted the benefit of putting troops on the ground fast with the element of surprise. The soldiers carried little equipment and used low-level parachutes that allow them to jump from RAF Hercules C130 aircraft at altitudes as low as 250ft.
“The fact that we have used the tactic [parachuting], albeit on a small basis, has demonstrated how valuable it is,” a senior source said. “We are not talking about mass drops – these are small operations with no more than a company group, going out of the door to secure ground and to attack the enemy.”
The presence of 1 PARA in Afghanistan means that all three battalions of the Parachute Regiment are currently deployed in the region. Whilst 1 PARA is operating with the SFSG, 2 PARA and 3 PARA continue to carry out standard operations in central Helmand.