OnPoint by Keith Ng


A Friday-Appropriate Hager Excerpt

Just a cute little story about the SAS from Other People's Wars for your Friday:

A military authorised book called NZSAS: The First Fifty Years describes this mission. It says that two SAS soldiers, hiding under camouflage netting on an open mountainside, were approached, just as one of them was awkwardly defecating, by a goat that nibbled at their camouflage and risked compromising them to the nearby goatherd. 'Extraordinarily, after quite a few picks at the tassels it decided it did not like nylon and moved off slowly back down the hill.' The real story, however, is that the goat did not move off and the goatherd did notice the camouflage net.

According to SAS personnel who were in Afghanistan at the time, two six-person SAS patrols were on a special reconnaissance mission, which entailed being dropped off by helicopter and walking across country to observe and collect photos of a potential target. The goat incident happened early one morning before they reached the observation point. When it was clear they had been spotted, the SAS soldiers rushed the goatherd and took his rifle, which most Afghans in the countryside carry. They told him to go home. The confrontation was quickly over but the mission was compromised. The SAS officers were highly embarrassed that, after pushing to be given missions, the first one had gone wrong; and even more embarrassed because the urgent extraction of the New Zealanders involved heavy US military resources.


When the SAS troops flew home to New Zealand a few weeks after [Operation] Anaconda they took with them, secreted in their luggage, a momento of the deployment. It was the goatherd's rifle, from that first, failed special reconnaissance mission. This now hangs on the wall of the SAS officers' mess at their headquarters in Papakura, Auckland, probably looking to any visitors like a grisly relic of some death-defying battle. It is a fitting symbol of the frustrations and pointlessness of most of the deployment: a weapon taken off a poor farmer, who was not New Zealand's enemy, on a mission that failed but would probably have been pointless anyway.

But it was a fitting momento in a positive way as well. Some US soldiers in the same position would have seen an Afghan with a gun and simply shot him to avoid the mission being compromised. German KSK special forces at Anaconda spoke to a German newspaper criticising the Americans for doing this very thing. The New Zealand SAS soldiers did not shoot the goatherd and they accepted the embarrassment of having to be pulled out. For the contingent who replaced them in Afghanistan, this difference between themselves and the American forces would become more and more obvious.

It's really kinda sweet.

(Yes. I really did just use the words "sweet" and "cute" in relation to the SAS. Please don't shoot me.)

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