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SAS revved up for a fast ride in Iraqi desert

Date: 19/01/2003
Words: 521
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: News
Page: 7
AUSTRALIAN SAS troops will have to change their operational tactics drastically in a war on Iraq and could end up riding to war on the back of trail bikes.

The bikes are most likely to replace the long-range four-wheel-drive vehicles they used in mountainous Afghanistan, which are far too visible in the flat, open deserts of Iraq.

Military experts said the SAS would probably be used for desert missions deep behind enemy lines to spy out Iraqi positions.

Rather than attack, they would call in air strikes or US special forces to attack from battle helicopters.

The SAS squads on these missions would operate in groups of four or five and aim to be as invisible as possible. The trail bikes would be dropped with them from helicopters.

``We learnt from the mistakes of the British SAS in the '91 Gulf War it is very hard to hide in that sort of flat, desert terrain," said David Horner, author of SAS Phantoms Of War which details the history of the Australian elite force.

In a rare glimpse inside the operations of the SAS, the survivor of a botched British SAS mission deep inside Iraq wrote a book called Bravo Two Zero, which revealed that bad planning and support had left the squad stranded in the desert fighting Iraqi troops.

They were spotted by a goatherd who alerted Iraqi troops and they had to flee hundreds of kilometres on foot trying to escape.

``That British SAS unit got rumbled very easily and then had no way of getting out except on foot," Professor Horner said.

The Australians wouldn't make that mistake with bikes hidden under a tarpaulin, ready for a quick getaway.

They are rigged to run very quietly, with a top speed of 165kmh and extra fuel tanks to give them greater range.

The SAS has been using the bikes for some time. Yamaha sold 500 XT600 bikes to the military with special conversions for gun racks, heavy-duty suspension, large rear panniers and long-range fuel tanks.

Former motocross champion Stephen Gall trained army instructors at Puckapunyal base in special techniques for combat and desert riding.

``When our SAS were in the desert in Kuwait in 1998, they ran into problems with the Land Rovers," Professor Horner said.

``They will also be facing tanks and armoured vehicles which could probably outrun a Land Rover on the flat desert."

Prime Minister John Howard has said 150 SAS soldiers are on stand-by to go to the Persian Gulf.

The SAS won enormous respect from the US forces in Afghanistan.

There, US General John Vines said he would do everything in his power to have the SAS by his side if he went to war against Iraq.

``I think their skill, expertise, experience and professionalism are just invaluable," General Vines said.

``If I had to pick one unit that we could work with that I feel is the most critical to our success, I would pick your forces."


* Weight 156kilograms; top speed 165kmh.

* Alterations for military use: long-range fuel tanks doubling the range to 300kilometres; gun racks on front and rear of bike; rear carriers for equipment.

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