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SAS And SBS Join American Special Forces Targeting Al Qaeda Operations In Africa
The former French colony is strategically placed to dominate the sea lane approaches to Arabia 's major ports and is within striking distance of Sudan and Somalia , two states believed to be harbouring terrorist fugitives and training insurgents.
A handful of SAS and SBS troopers have already joined theirAmerican counterparts at Camp Lemonnier , an old French Foreign Legion fort which is the only US military base in Africa .
Between 1500 and 2000 US Marines provide the main garrison and act as a back-up and strike force for the special forces' reconnaissance teams.
However, the move places a new strain on the overstretched UK special forces.
The SAS and SBS have fewer than 600 "shooters" between them and all have already served several times in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war on terror was launched in 2001.
Part-time volunteer reservists from 21 and 23 Territorial regiments of the SAS have also been called up to ease the strain.
Between 40 and 60 experienced regular troopers have abandoned their roles over the last year to earn up to GBP500 a day - about five or six times their army pay - as mercenaries with private security firms in Iraq.
A joint SAS-SBS detachment is based in Basra with a second contingent operating out of the US base at Balad north of Baghdad . They amount to about a third of the manpower of the UK 's special forces.
Others are hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan , although Norwegian, German and Australian special forces have recently taken on some of the workload to allow their colleagues a break.
The African commitment comes in response to intelligence reports that offshoots of the al Qaeda network have set up camps in Sudan's Jebel Kurush mountains to train jihadi fighters to infiltrate neighbouring Saudi Arabia and other Western-friendly Arab states.
Saudi police yesterday shot and killed Abdul-Rahman al Mutab, the fourth most-wanted al Qaeda suspect on its target list and the second major terrorist to die in a shoot-out in 24 hours. He had been on the run since Tuesday after escaping in a gun battle north of Riyadh , the capital, which left fellow militant Mohammed al Suwailmi and five police dead. Al Suwailmi was number seven on the Saudi wanted list.
A total of 10 of the 15 leading Saudi suspects have been killed or captured since June, including Saleh Awfi, al Qaeda's regional commander, who is understood to have set up the training camps in Sudan and elsewhere.
Awfi, who reputedly conferred with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, shortly before the September 11 suicide attacks on the US , was cornered and shot in his home city of Medina in August.