Chapter set to close as SAS chief bows out

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The Independent Online
The recent avalanche of books and television programmes about the Special Air Service has probably spent itself with the news that the man who started it will not seek re-election as president of the SAS Regimental Association.

Within the close-knit world of former SAS men, it may signify ostracism. A Carlton television series, SAS - The Soldiers' Story begins this week, but with new MoD guidelines in place and increasing bitterness among serving and recently retired SAS men against the handful of retired soldiers who made capital of their experiences, it is likely to be the last.

General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who served with the SAS and was Britain's senior military figure in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war, said he would not seek re-election as the SAS association's chairman. He is widely seen as the instigator of the rash of SAS books and films.

Senior defence sources told the Independent last week that they did not believe Sir Peter knew the effect that publication of the details of SAS operations during the Gulf, in his book, Storm Command, would have. But having described the exploits of patrol Bravo Two-Zero, deployed in the western Iraqi desert to destroy Scud missiles, it was perhaps inevitable that surviving members of that patrol - one using the pseudonym Andy McNab, the other Chris Ryan - would publish their own accounts, with spectacular success. Whereas McNab and Ryan undoubtedly witnessed the events they described, others may also have jumped on the bandwagon. And whereas the role of the SAS in the Gulf war was relatively straightforward, the SAS may also have been involved in other operations - against drug barons in South America and possibly in the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan - which the Government would not want publicised.

Although many of the procedures described in the books and television series may differ from those currently in use by SAS men in Bosnia - whose language skills and expertise in working with local factions are their prime value - senior officers said they were still concerned.

There are fears within the Hereford-based regiment itself and at the highest defence planning levels, that the mystique of the SAS has been damaged. Its mystique is as important a part of its hitting power as its professional competence.

However, the Carlton series, which re-examines well-trodden ground about the Iranian embassy siege, the war against the IRA, the Falklands and the Gulf, is seen as less damaging than the dramatisation of Chris Ryan's book, The One that Got Away. The latter portrayed the SAS as badly prepared and incompetent.

The spate of "revelations" led to the MoD breaking its traditional "no comment" rule on special forces in the latest Defence White Paper, published on 1 May.

For the first time it featured a few paragraphs on the role of special forces.

"The interests of national security will always come first", it says. "And where necessary the Department [MoD] will pursue all appropriate legal options to prevent the publication of information about the Special Forces which it considers to be potentially damaging."

In the light of such statements, in future it is likely that the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, which apply even after someone has left government services, will be more strictly enforced.

OPERATION BESTSELLER: HOW THE HEROES CASHED IN

ANDY McNAB

Bravo Two Zero. 1994. Price: pounds 5.99 Publisher: Corgi

Account by the leader of an SAS patrol caught behind Iraqi lines while on a mission in the Gulf War. It has sold 1.6 million copies, and has been high in the paperback bestseller listS for well over a year.

Immediate Action. 1996. Price: pounds 15.99 Publisher: Bantam

The story of McNab's life in the SAS before he was sent to Iraq. The High Court lifted an MoD injunction on the book last year after he changed the text.

SGT MAJ BARRY DAVIES

The SAS Escape, Evasion and Survival Manual. 1996. Price: pounds 16.99. Publisher: Bloomsbury

Shadow of the Dove. 1996. Price: pounds 16.99. Publisher: Bloomsbury

Written with Souhaila Andrawes, one of the terrorists who hijacked the Lufthansa airliner which he helped to liberate in Mogadishu in 1977.

Fire Magic - Hijack to Mogadishu. 1995. Price: pounds 4.99. Publisher: 22 Books

CPL CHRIS RYAN

The One That Got Away. 1995. Price: pounds 5.99. Publisher: Century

Story of the only member of McNab's patrol not to be caught by the Iraqis.

PETER MacALEESE

No Mean Soldier. 1994. Price: pounds 4.99. Publisher: Orion

His book chronicles the life of a character who always seemed destined for an intensely violent career.

HARRY McCALLION

Killing Zone. 1995. Price: pounds 4.99. Publisher: Bloomsbury Notable for descriptions of the brutality of those who served with McCallion in the SAS, Parachute Regiment, and South African Special Forces.

JACK RAMSAY

SAS: The Soldier's Story. 1996. Price: pounds 16.99. Publisher: Macmillan

Serialised (complete with pictures of burnt corpses) in the Mirror this month.

GEN TONY JEAPES

SAS - Secret War. 1996. Price: pounds 14.99.Publisher: HarperCollins

MICHAEL KENNEDY

Soldier I - Eighteen Years in the Elite Forces Price: pounds 4.99. Publisher: 22 Books

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