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Operation Barras
Part of Sierra Leone Civil War
Cover of OPERATION BARRAS: The SAS Rescue Mission Sierra Leone 2000, authored by William Fowler
Date 10 September 2000
Location Occra Hills, Sierra Leone
Result British victory;
British hostages rescued,
West Side Boys' commander captured
 United Kingdom West Side Boys
Unknown Foday Kallay
150[1] 100[2] - 150
Casualties and losses
1 killed in action,
12 wounded
at least 25 killed in action,[1][2]
18 captured

Operation Barras was the name given to a hostage rescue operation by the British Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Parachute Regiment in Sierra Leone on 10 September 2000. The men on the ground nicknamed the dangerous mission 'Operation Certain Death'.[3]



Eleven members of the British Army's Royal Irish Regiment led by Major Alan Marshall[4] and their Sierra Leone Army liaison officer, Lieutenant Musa Bangura[3] were taken prisoner and held hostage by an armed rebel group known as the West Side Boys led by Foday Kallay on August 25, 2000. Some controversy exists regarding the mission of the British troops; British sources initially maintained that the soldiers were returning to Freetown from a meeting with Jordanian United Nations forces when they were captured. However, the Nigerian UN commander, General Garba, claims that the British soldiers never met with the Jordanian troops. British authorities later admitted that their soldiers may have been captured while deep in rebel territory.[1]

On 3 September,[5] five of the eleven British soldiers were released in exchange for a satellite phone and medical supplies. Further negotiations then broke down and Foday Kallay threatened to kill the remaining hostages. It was then that British Prime Minister Tony Blair authorised the mission.[4]

The operation

At 6:16 in the morning of 10 September, three Chinook and three Lynx helicopters took off from the Freetown airport and headed for Rokel Creek, upon the banks of which was located the West Side Boys' camp. On the northern bank was the village of Geberi Bana, where the remaining British soldiers were being kept. On the opposite bank were two more villages, Magbeni and Forodugu, also occupied by the rebels. The Land Rovers used by the captured soldiers had been taken to Magbeni.

The attack on the rebel camps commenced at around 6:30 as the helicopters came in and disgorged troops almost simultaneously on both northern and southern target locations. In Geberi Bana, SAS observation teams, which had been inserted days before and had kept the rebels under surveillance ever since, began to engage them. The rescuers, SAS troopers, extracted the remaining six British soldiers and the Sierra Leonean Officer, Lieutenant Musa Bangura, within twenty minutes. They were flown out to the RFA Sir Percivale moored in Freetown harbour at about 7:00 that morning. In Magbeni, the Paratroopers engaged the awakened rebels. A second wave soon brought the Paras to full strength as they continued the assault. This attack diverted attention from the rescue mission on the opposite bank in Geberi Bana. Most of the action was over by 8:00, although the last British troops pulled out at 14:00 in the afternoon, after conducting mopping-up operations that saw the capture of Foday Kallay and the recovery of the Land Rovers.

British and allied units involved


  • Major Alan Marshall
  • Captain Flaherty
  • CSM Head
  • Sergeant Smith
  • Lieutenant Musa Bangura
  • Corporal Sampson
  • Corporal Ryan
  • Corporal Mackenzie
  • Ranger Gaunt
  • Ranger McVeigh
  • Ranger Rowell
  • Ranger MaGuire


  • 25 rebels confirmed killed although far more are thought to have died
  • 18 rebels captured including Foday Kallay
  • 1 British SAS soldier killed in action; identified as Bradley Tinnion [6]
  • 12 British soldiers wounded (1 severely, 11 minor)

British gallantry awards for Operation Barras and associated operations

All awards were gazetted with the date of 6 April 2001, however, some were not actually published for some time afterwards.[7][8][9][10][11]

In addition to the gallantry awards a number of other decorations and honours were given, ranging from appointments to the Order of the British Empire to Mentions in Despatches and the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service.

Discovery Channel and National Geographic documentary

A 2007 episode of the Discovery Channel TV show Zero Hour starring Clive Standen as Major Alan Marshall and narrated by Sean Pertwee documented the whole operation from the view point of all involved and included interviews with soldiers and West Side Boys involved.[12]

A 2007 episode of the National Geographic Channel TV show Situation Critical documented the full story of the events leading up to the capture, the capture itself, the life of the prisoners while held hostage, plans for the operation, and the operation itself.

On 20 August 2000, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC-TV) international affairs programme Foreign Correspondent broadcast a special report, "Sierra Leone: Soldiers of Fortune", focussing on the exploits of South African pilot Neall Ellis and his MI-24 Hind gunship. The report also investigated the failures of the UN Peacekeeping Force, and the involvement of mercenaries/private military contractors in providing vital support to UN operations and British military Special Operations in Sierra Leone in 1999-2000. The programme also featured interviews with and film of the Royal Irish Regiment contingent in Sierra Leone training members of the SLA in the weeks leading up to the incident.[13]


  1. ^ a b c "Operation BARRAS Sierra Leone 10 September 2000". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  2. ^ a b "Special Air Service (SAS) - Operation Barras - Sierra Leone". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  3. ^ a b c Lewis, Damien. "Operation Certain Death". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  4. ^ a b Cooper, Tom. "Sierra Leone, 1990-2002". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  5. ^ Paul, James. "Gun Fight at Rorkel Creek". Retrieved 2007-05-29.  
  6. ^ "High-risk hostage rescue in a hostile environment was the only real choice". Retrieved 2007-06-14.  
  7. ^ a b c d e London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56168, pp. 4245–4247, 6 April 2001. Retrieved on 2007-12-17.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57070, pp. 12066–12067, 30 September 2003. Retrieved on 2007-12-17.
  9. ^ a b London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57751, p. 11648, 9 September 2005. Retrieved on 2007-12-17.
  10. ^ a b London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57936, p. 4197, 24 March 2006. Retrieved on 2007-12-17.
  11. ^ Note that some recipients listed as belonging to the Parachute Regiment were probably actually serving with the SAS, as such personnel are always gazetted under their original regiment.
  12. ^ imdb link:
  13. ^ Foreign Correspondent—"Sierra Leone: Soldiers of Fortune", Programme synopsis and transcript. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 20 August 2000. Retrieved on 23 July 2009.


  • William Fowler. (2005). Operation Barras: The SAS Rescue Mission, Sierra Leone 2000, Cassell military. ISBN 0-304-36699-4 : a semi-fictionalised narrative history of the operation
  • The novel Barracuda 945, by Patrick Robinson, also quotes the operation.
  • TV dramatization Zero hour operation Barras starring Clive Standen as Major Alan Marshall imdb link:

External links

Coordinates: 8°33′22″N 12°47′49″W / 8.556°N 12.797°W / 8.556; -12.797



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