With the war in Afghanistan and operational tempo set to increase with the Australian government’s recommitment, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Smethurst of the Special Air Service Regiment understood that this model was simply outdated and needed to change. Under his guidance, courses such as ACQB were subsequently integrated into the Commando Reinforcement Training Cycle (CRTC), which meant that every soldier who passed the Commando Selection and Training Course (CSTC) and subsequent CRTC would enter the unit at a much higher standard than those previously.

This increased level of individual proficiencies meant that the unit was now able to introduce a rotation system where companies could rotate on- and off-team without having to deal with any kind of soldier training deficits. It also meant that the entire unit could get busy building its offensive strike and direct action (DA) role, which would ultimately prove to be one of the Regiment’s most superlative capabilities. Under this contemporary arrangement, every operator was set to gain an exceptional amount of experience across the operational continuum and through the diverse responsibilities that the unit was now tasked with.

These changes saw Bravo Commando Company, with whom I deployed in 2007, become the first to send over a full ACQB-qualified company of operators. This allowed for the paradigm to shift from primarily vehicle-based patrols and QRF operations to a more offensive deliberate action (DA) strike role. Our targeting during this transitional phase was predominantly historical in context. However, it set the foundation for the more time-sensitive missions to come.

The lack of air assets meant that our historical targeting was a byproduct of our limitations, as our FE operated exclusively as a ground assault force (GAF). Essentially, we would drive our convoy into areas known to be infested with insurgents in order to generate some kind of a response, and then generate a counter response. For those insurgents unbalanced enough to want to stir up the 40-vehicle deep hornet’s nest bristling with Australian operators itching for a gunfight, they were certainly not disappointed.

For other Taliban commanders who had left a trail of intelligence regarding the villages and compounds that they frequented, the company, ready to put their new skills to good use, would implement the obligatory 2 a.m. “hard knock,” keeping Afghan door and hinge makers in business all over Uruzgan Province.

One of the author’s photos from 2007, showing EMOE practice at the Multi-National Base – Tarin Kot (MNB-TK) range

Although we always made the best of our operating environment despite our limitations, historical targeting almost always provided nothing more than ACQB practice for the company. Even though intelligence would dictate that, say, a medium-value individual (MVI) had been frequenting an area or particular compound over a period of time, this obviously held no guarantee that they were going to be there when the company chose to plan for a deliberate action (DA).

Even on subsequent deployments where time-sensitive targeting indicated that a MVI was actually in a specific compound when we launched in UH-60s, it still in no way guaranteed that they were going to be there when we were wheels-down on target. Just like helicopters, which not only have a noise signature and spotters watching their every move from Tarin Kot Airfield, the dust and noise signature that a SOTG GAF would generate was unmistakable.

Convoy Marked
One of the author’s photos showing the sheer scale of a Special Operations Task Group convoy.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of driving through the Afghan countryside on unsealed roads would be extremely familiar with the telltale signs that a military convoy produces. Similarly, the spotter network through Uruzgan and neighbouring provinces meant that the insurgent network within our intended target area was well informed of our approach in the days leading up to our arrival.