The SAS in Gambia 1981
Three British Commandos Recaptured an Entire Country
Apr 27, 2007 Christopher Eger
When the leader of the Commonwealth nation of the Gambia needed his country back after a coup, the SAS sent three crack commandos who got the job done in 72 hours
The Gambia is the smallest independent country in mainland Africa. It gets its name from the River Gambia that cuts it in half. Independent since 1965 it is almost completely surrounded by its much larger neighbor Senegal which it was friendly with. In 1981 its population was slightly under a million and it did not even feel the need to have an army. The country’s president Sir Dawda Jawara was invited to attend the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles due to the Gambia’s status as a member of the British Commonwealth. On July 31, 1981, 400 Marxist radicals under the name of The Movement for Justice in Africa that had been armed and trained in Libya took advantage of his absence to seize control of the country. In the capital city of Banjul they sized Jawara’s family, the radio station, police armory and airport. President Jawara declared he would return to his country and asked for British help. He was given a British Army force of two men. These two men were not your average soldiers, they were SAS men.
The 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, (better known as the SAS) has been Britain’s premier commando force since the end of world war two. The detachment was made up of then-Major Ian Crooke and a picked sergeant. Crooke had years of experience in Borneo, Ulster, the recapture of the Iranian Embassy in London and other hot spots by the time of the Gambian affair and had risen to third in command of the SAS. He and a sergeant that remains unnamed to this day donned civilian clothes and left for Senegal, Gambia’s neighbor. They brought grenades, a pair of Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns and a matching set of Browning Hi Power pistols, all of which fired the same 9mm cartridge in a diplomatic pouch. They arrived the next day and walked over the border and into the lawless Gambian capital dressed in polo shirts and blue jeans. They were met by Mr. Clive Lee, a former commando who had retired in Gambia who had been in touch to see if he could be of assistance. The three men ventured together through the capital to assess the situation.
They found that the airport had been retaken already by elite French-trained paratroopers from Senegal, who President Jawara had also contacted for assistance. The three commandos made contact with the Senegalese forces and outlined a plan to retake the city and defeat the rebels. The SAS team went first - disguised as doctors -to the local hospital where President Jawara’s family was being held and disarmed the rebels there without incident. The commandos then led the assault on the radio station and the government’s police armory with support of the Senegalese the next day. A film crew from the BBC captured the out of place and out of uniform British commandos several times running all over town from engagement to engagement. By August 3rd, the attempted coup was over and the quiet and professional SAS men flew back to Britain just as President Jawara returned to the Gambia from there.
In the aftermath of this stunning event Major Crooke was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He retired as a Colonel and now lives in South Africa. It was estimated that anywhere from 600-1000 Gambian casualties were suffered in the three days of rebellion and anarchy. In December 1981 seven ringleaders were sentenced to death after trail for their role in the coup. President Jawara was re-elected five times in democratic elections and remained the leader of his country until he was removed in 1994…..by a military coup.
SAS: The First Secret Wars: The Unknown Years of Combat and Counter-Insurgency Tim Jones I. B. Tauris publishers 2005Read more at Suite101: The SAS in Gambia 1981: Three British Commandos Recaptured an Entire Country http://modern-war.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_sas_in_gambia_1981#ixzz0oK174lnI