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Film shows Westerners fighting at Qila-i-Jangi

December 17, 2001

LONDON, Dec 16: British television has shown video footage of Westerners firing machineguns and rifles alongside the Northern Alliance fighters, but the defence ministry refused to confirm they were special forces troops.

The footage was shot late last month at the massive Qila-i-Jangi prison, outside Mazar-i-Sharif, during the massacre of Taliban prisoners.

Footage showing soldiers not in uniform and with unmistakable British accents at the Qila-i-Jangi was broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News. It showed the soldiers firing a machinegun at targets from the walls of the fortress. One SAS soldier took aim with a sniper rifle after a Northern Alliance fighter pointed to a target.

Newspapers have said the men were crack British soldiers hunting for Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.

“We have seen the footage and we are not commenting,” a defence ministry spokesman said. “We are confirming that British forces were in northern Afghanistan.”

The British government refuses to comment on operations carried out by the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service units, both understood to be active in Afghanistan.

As well as at least five Western men, apparently British, the footage showed two US men in camouflage with “US Air Force” written on their uniforms.

Two ran crouched along a wall and five huddled behind a wall with weapons. They were not in uniform. Some wore scarves and they were unshaven.

They fired machinegun bursts as the sun set, and the crackle of other weapons and a large explosion were heard.

A man shouted “FAC (forward air control) complete” in a clear British accent and gave a “thumbs up”. Another could be heard saying “OK pull back”, but the sound quality was poor.

The targets could not be seen on the film, though the faces of some of the SAS soldiers were clearly in view. The decision not to obscure their faces triggered an angry response from the Ministry of Defence. One MoD official said the ministry was “very, very unhappy with Channel Four” for not obscuring the faces of the SAS soldiers.

An MoD spokesmen refused to comment on the video - taken on November 25 - or even to admit the presence of SAS troops engaged in any operations anywhere in Afghanistan. But military sources said that the footage “spoke for itself”.

According to guidelines under the D notice system - a system of voluntary media self-censorship - anything that helps to identify members of the special forces endangers their personal security.

Journalists working in Afghanistan during the campaign against Osama and the Taliban have seen dozens of Western men on the ground, many pinpointing potential bomb targets.

Media reports say there are several hundred mainly US, British and Australian special forces troops in the country.

The Afghan campaign is the biggest British special forces operation since the Falklands War in 1982.—Reuters