On 7 May 2000 1 PARA group less A company but reinforced by D Company 2 PARA was deployed to Sierra Leone at very short notice to evacuate UK and other civilians threatened by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and other insurgents around Freetown.
The United Nations Mission troops in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) were under strength and of insufficient quality to face down rebel forces intent on encroaching the capital. The 1 PARA battle group was in place within 64 hours of receiving the first telephone call.
A Tactical Air-Land (TALO) operation secured Lungi airport and an operating base was established on the Aberdeen Peninsular near Freetown. Firm patrolling and vehicle check-points netted weapons as the 1 PARA presence diffused the situation, enabling some evacuees to be flown out and generally stabilise the area around the capital.
Once the Non-Combatant Evacuation operation or ‘NEO’ was under way subsequent tasks included further support to shore up the UNAMSIL mission, before the stabilisation task was handed over to 42 Commando on the 26th May.
OPERATION BARRAS - SIERRA LEONE SEP 2000
On 3 September 2000 at very short notice, A Company 1 PARA were given orders to support an operation to release British hostages being held in Sierra Leone by the West Side Boys, a group of rebel forces. At 0500 on 10 September A Company left the Forward Operating Base (FOB) on Chinook helicopters just after first light and were dropped just short their objective, Gberi Bana.
The first two men from A Company to leave the tailgate disappeared up to their chest in a swamp and for a few moments disaster seemed possible.
During the initial stages of the action there were several casualties including the officer in command, Major Lowe, the lead platoon commander and their radio operators. Seconds-in-command seized the initiative and continued with the village clearance.
Within a few hours, A Company had mopped up the enemy positions; previously captured British Army vehicles were removed by Chinook helicpters and the enemy’s heavy weapons and vehicles destroyed. One SAS trooper was killed.
That night the troops returned via Freetown to the UK, arriving back on 12 September. Overall the operation had been an outstanding success, clearly demonstrating the versatility and professional fighting power of British paratroopers.