More About the Bravo Two Zero Patrol

Gulf War Documentary

The man who commanded the SAS in the Gulf War has spoken publicly for the first time about his unit's operations. In the BBC documentary series 'The Gulf War', Brigadier Andy Massey says that tactical mistakes were made in the deployment of the soldiers. Three men from the patrol known as Bravo Two Zero died in an operation to find Scud missiles behind Iraqi lines.

For the SAS, the Bravo Two Zero patrol has always been seen with distinctly mixed feelings. On one hand, its most famous ever action is a tale of remarkable endurance and heroism, but it was also a clear failure, with only one of the eight-man patrol escaping death or capture. Privately, SAS soldiers have always acknowledged mistakes were made. Now, in an interview for a BBC documentary on the war, the commander of special forces in the Gulf, Brigadier Andy Massey, has publicly said there were errors, notably the failure to go behind enemy lines with vehicles. Without transport, the patrol was unable to move rapidly when they were discovered, having to try to escape from deep behind enemy lines on foot. In fact the men of Bravo Two Zero themselves chose not to use vehicles, while other patrols with the same task -finding Scud missiles - made what proved to be the right decision and took Land Rovers. Ironically it is the least successful patrol that has become a legend.

Daily Telegraph ( 22 May 1996)


Ex-SAS troopers accuse officers of hypocrisy
By Tim Butcher, Defence Correspondent


TENSIONS between officers and troopers that threaten to harm the SAS were revealed yesterday at the launch of another television programme on the Army's elite regiment.

Five former troopers criticised what they describe as the "hypocrisy" of officers for banning them from the regiment's base in Hereford for taking part in the programme and being involved with the publication of the accompanying book. They accused officers of inconsistency for not taking similar action against commanders such as Gen Sir Peter de la Billière, who referred to the regiment extensively in two autobiographical books.

"There are two rules, one for the officers and one for the soldiers," one of the troopers, who identified himself as Rusty, told a press conference.

"The thing is the officers are telling the soldiers' stories and are allowed to get away with it." The five were among 40 names on a list of banned people not allowed access to Stirling Lines, the SAS base in Hereford. The others banned include Andy McNab and Chris Ryan, who both wrote SAS books about the Gulf conflict.

One of the group who identified himself as Soldier "I" said they could take part in meetings of the SAS Regimental Association and other regimental functions, anywhere but at Stirling Lines. "In my mind it is sheer hypocrisy," Soldier "I" said. He believed the banning order was a short-sighted measure taken after the rash of recent SAS publicity including the books by McNab and Ryan as well as assorted videos and television programmes.

He described the commanding officer of 22 SAS as "paranoid". "He does not know how to handle the press," he said. "He does not know how to handle this media explosion. "It's a knee-jerk reaction and he just decided the only way to combat this problem is to ban everybody, but in fact it drives it underground and makes people more determined to do their bit."

"As far as I am concerned what we set about doing was to give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth"

All five appeared at the press launch of SAS - The Soldiers' Story to be broadcast by ITV, starting on Thursday week - wearing boiler suits, combat boots and black balaclavas, saying they did not want to reveal their identity because they had served in Northern Ireland. Each of the seven episodes includes personal accounts of some of the regiment's most famous achievements, including the 1980 storming of the Iranian embassy in London. The series' makers said the first episode had been cleared by the Ministry of Defence since it did not give away any specific details of SAS techniques or training.

The other episodes would also be submitted to the MoD for clearance. In total 20 former members of the regiment took part in the making of the series, which they said was an accurate version of events told by the soldiers who took part.

Three of the five ex-troopers attending the launch took part in the Iranian embassy siege. One of them, Mack, was shown by television news cameras blowing in a first-floor window.

The men drew a distinction between SAS books written by people who described the actions of others and the television series. They said the programmes were produced only by the people who took part in the events. One of the men, who called himself Johnny Two-Combs, said: "As far as I am concerned, and the rest of the chaps here today, what we set about doing was dispelling various misquotes and misrepresentations by other people - once and for all to give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, told purely and simply in the words of the man who was there on the day." He said that service in or association with the regiment did not give anyone the right to make money by both retailing and embroidering the exploits of the soldiers themselves.

The men were each paid less than £200 a day during the filming of the series but they expect to receive royalties from the sale of the accompanying book and video. The first episode covers the siege of the Iranian embassy. It uses archive reports as well as reconstruction to depict the incident that brought the SAS out of the shadows and contributed largely to its worldwide reputation for extreme professionalism.

From the tone of the comments of the former members, it appears that the flood of books and published accounts and various SAS officers' reaction to them threatens to change the regiment radically. "They have turned it into an officers' club," said Soldier "I". It used to be a regiment run by senior NCOs."


Daily Telegraph (04 Oct 96)

SAS to take pledge of silence
By Tim Butcher, Defence Correspondent

MEMBERS of the SAS and Special Boat Squadron are to be forced to sign a confidentiality contract forbidding them from publicising their work without permission from senior officers.

The contract, to be published today in a Defence Council instruction, applies to serving and future members of Britain's special forces. It does not apply to former members. It reflects concern among senior officers that the traditional conspiracy of silence within British special forces has been destroyed by a rash of books, television programmes and other publicity since the Gulf war.

SAS troopers have been tempted to emulate former members Andy McNab and Chris Ryan who have earned fortunes from the sales of their books - Bravo Two Zero and The One That Got Away. "Each book, or piece of work, taken by itself does not reveal a great deal," one defence source said. "But, taken together, they allow a fairly clear picture to emerge of some of our tactics and methods."

The contract involves a lifelong obligation under civil law not to disclose any unauthorised information about the activities of the special forces. Anyone who breaks the terms of the contract could be served with a writ for damages by the Ministry of Defence.

MoD sources said the contract is intended to plug a loophole in existing regulations covering disclosure of information, including the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which covers members of the special forces. Under the Act, it is a criminal offence to publish certain types of information but MoD lawyers have had difficulty showing that it applies in the case of the material written by former SAS troopers.

In this year's defence White Paper the MoD broke with tradition by devoting half a page to the SAS

It is expected that a contract signed by members of the SAS, SBS, territorial SAS and a few other small covert intelligence units will be more enforceable.

If a member or future member of the special forces refuses to sign the contract they will be dismissed from special forces and returned to their original unit.

In May a group of former SAS members who took part in a television programme, SAS: The Soldiers' Story, accused senior officers of hypocrisy. They said officers such as Gen Sir Peter de la Billiere, regarded as the godfather of the modern regiment, were allowed to profit from books referring to his SAS experiences while the men were not.

Gen de le Billiere has written two autobiographical books which make some references to the SAS but both books were sent to the MoD for clearance. In this year's defence White Paper the MoD broke with tradition by devoting half a page to the SAS, an institution about which it normally makes no comment.

Under the title "Disclosure of Information on Special Forces", the White Paper said it would use "all appropriate legal options" to prevent publication of details believed to be damaging to the SAS and SBS.


Daily Telegraph (22 Jan 1997)
Ex-soldiers banned from SAS bases over books
By Tim Butcher

FORMER members of the SAS who have written books believed to have breached security are to be banned from Special Forces establishments, the Ministry of Defence said last night.

However, the exclusion order will not apply to those former members, such as General Sir Peter de la Billière, former Director of Special Forces, whose books received the approval of MoD officials.

General de la Billière said he knew that letters were being sent to some former special forces members, but added: "Both of my books were cleared by MoD and SAS before publication. I have not received, and do not expect to receive, such a letter."

A senior MoD source said it was "inconceivable" that General de la Billière, who is widely regarded as the godfather of the modern SAS, would be subjected to any exclusion order by the Regiment.

Nevertheless, some former members who have angered officers in the SAS by writing about their exploits will be told in writing that they can no longer enter the regiment's base in Hereford or other special forces properties around the country.

The letters are intended to put the seal on informal bans, which have been in operation for some time, on some former soldiers such as Andy McNab, whose best-selling account of SAS operations in the Gulf War, Bravo Two Zero, was seen as the first major breach of operational security.

Daily Telegraph (23 Jan 1997)
Assault by SAS general on ministry book fiasco
By Tim Butcher, Defence Correspondent

GENERAL Sir Peter de la Billière, one of the Army's most distinguished post-war figures, was involved in an unseemly row yesterday over whether he has been punished for writing about the SAS.

Senior MoD sources insisted that a ban on entering Special Forces bases applied to him, but he disagreed and demanded an apology. The argument, which called into question the Army's handling of sensitive announcements concerning Special Forces, reflected serious policy disagreements between senior figures in the British military establishment.

A day of rapidly changing MoD statements and frantic meetings of senior defence officials ended in what supporters of Gen de la Billière called "a complete muddle". The MoD finally said a "gentleman's agreement" had been made with the general. He issued a statement but made no reference to a ban.

Earlier, the general demanded an apology after being angered that no senior officer or official had contacted him over the issue. The first time he discussed a possible ban was when he was contacted by The Telegraph. The row turned on whether an official exclusion order from Special Forces bases for former members of the regiment who had contributed to the recent wave of SAS publicity applied to Gen de la Billière.

The general, who was the most decorated serving member of the Army when he retired in 1992, referred to the SAS in two autobiographical books written after he commanded British forces in the 1991 Gulf war. Both books were submitted and passed by the MoD for publication. If applied, the ban would mean that the general, who served in the SAS for more than two decades, could be forcibly prevented from entering the regiment's headquarters in Hereford, near to his country home.

Late on Tuesday, MoD spokesmen announced the ban and without commenting on individual cases said it would apply equally to officers and soldiers. General Sir Charles Guthrie, Chief of the General Staff who is soon to become Chief of the Defence Staff, was believed to support the idea of the ban applying equally to all ranks.

The Telegraph spoke to Gen de la Billière late on Tuesday and he said he was aware of the proposed ban but did not expect it to apply to him as his two books had been fully cleared by MoD scrutineers and senior members of the SAS.

It is understood that Gen de la Billière contacted senior figures at the MoD yesterday. He demanded an apology after being told that the official ban did not apply to him but the MoD's public position did not change until later in the afternoon after various high-level meetings at MoD Main Building in Whitehall. After the meetings a new public statement emerged that withdrew the initial public suggestions that Gen de la Billière would receive a letter informing him that he was banned from Special Forces bases.

Instead it was suggested that he had been spoken to and while he had not been officially banned, a gentleman's agreement had been established that maintained the aim to treat officers and men equally. One senior defence source said that the issue was effectively over as Gen de la Billière had apparently accepted a de facto ban from Special Forces bases since last year.

This version was somewhat at odds with the general's own account of the new position as he issued a statement that made no reference to any ban. "I have been informed that all authors of books mentioning Special Forces and written since the Gulf war whether cleared by MoD or not are only welcome on Special Forces property by invitation," the statement said. "I should add that ex-Servicemen do not expect to visit any military installation except by invitation." He repeated an earlier statement that "I have not received, and do not expect to receive such an exclusion order".

Sergeant Andy McNab, whose book Bravo Two Zero about an ill-fated patrol in Iraq has made him a millionaire, is among the ex-SAS members affected by the order but he said yesterday that the ban would not have a significant effect. "All your friends and their families live outside the camp, so it doesn't stop you mixing with members of the regiment," he said.

Daily Telegraph (09 March 1997)


SAS purges its renegades in war of words
By Tim Reid

PAST and present members of the SAS are being forced to reapply for membership of their regimental association in a move that effectively expels two dozen former troopers who have publicly described their experiences in action.

A highly-confidential application form, passed to The Telegraph, has been sent to all retired and serving members of 22 SAS, the Herefordshire-based regiment of regular soldiers, in the past 10 days. But under the form's terms, the most draconian attempt yet to gag serving and former members, only those who "have not been served with any form of exclusion order by the Director Special Forces" can apply.

In January the former Gulf war commander, General Sir Peter de la Billière, along with several other soldiers-turned-authors, were banned by the Ministry of Defence from attending all SAS bases, as punishment for breaking the elite regiment's code of silence. They had been widely condemned for revealing their experiences in books and on television. The application form means the former soldiers will be prohibited from even remaining members of the Herefordshire branch of the SAS Regimental Association. They have effectively been expelled.

Sir Peter is not a member of the Herefordshire branch, the association's largest, so is not yet believed to be affected by the new rule. His books - Storm Command and Looking for Trouble - were blamed by some SAS members for opening the floodgates to a stream of best-selling memoirs, including Andy McNab's Bravo Two Zero and Chris Ryan's The One That Got Away.

The move also reflects growing concern within the MoD that despite the recent sanctions against Sir Peter and his literary companions - which included a ban on attending reunions and remembrance services on SAS bases - more books could be on the way.

Members must also sign a declaration in which they undertake not to write or publicly speak about "any information . . . relating to the work of the United Kingdom Special Forces . . . without express prior authority". The development is believed to have come after at least three high-level meetings involving senior association members.

Some hardliners within the association want the real names of authors to be revealed. A former senior officer in the regiment said last night that they had forfeited all right to Special Forces anonymity. "They have given too much away and therefore their true identities should be made known," he said.

The Ministry of Defence should also be checking the accuracy of the claims made in the books, he added. "Some of these people have been making themselves out to be far more important in the organisation than they ever were. Some of the so-called incidents and operations simply didn't happen.

"If the books are published despite all this then the MoD should go public and rebut the claims. This whole awful business has to stop. The effectiveness and employability of the regiment is at stake here. It is time to take the gloves off.

"The association is a charity and it provides a safety net for ex-members of the regiment who fall on hard times. It also provides for their families. They should be aware that losing their membership on top of public ridicule is a very high price to pay. This applies equally to anyone thinking of publishing a book."

In a Telegraph interview in January, Sir Peter condemned the MoD's "unbelievable management" of the issue. "My books are not damaging," he said. "Both were meticulously cleared by the SAS and the MoD and I took out everything they asked me to take out. No one ever said they were a security risk. Both my books enhanced the reputation of the SAS. They are used at the military staff college for reference purposes and I suspect will remain authoritative books on the Gulf."

He said his works should not be lumped in with later, more sensational, books. "There has been a regrettable confusion between the first book - mine - and those which were damaging and came later.

"The regrettable thing is that having got it wrong, nobody has had the courage to stand up in public and issue three or four lines saying that the banning of me wasn't correct."


The Guardian (November 26, 1998)

Books 'bad for SAS morale'
Court in New Zealand dismisses book gag on ex-SAS man

By Richard Norton-Taylor and Pattrick Smellie in Wellington

British government efforts to silence former special forces and intelligence personnel suffered a new blow yesterday when a New Zealand court dismissed its attempt to prevent a former SAS soldier from speaking about his past exploits.

The New Zealand appeal court allowed a television channel to broadcast an extensive interview with Mike Coburn, a member of the SAS Bravo Two Zero team which operated behind enemy lines during the Gulf war. In a case heard partly in secret, the Government argued that Mr Coburn - an assumed name - had broken a confidentiality contract.

The British Government said last night it still intended to pursue its attempt to stop Mr Coburn from publishing his book, Soldier 5, in New Zealand, despite a spate of books published in Britain over the past few years by former SAS soldiers.

The exploits of Bravo Two Zero - whose mission failed with four men captured and tortured, two killed in combat, one dying of exposure, and one escaping - have been graphically described in a best-seller by Andy McNab.

Mr McNab claimed his book was prompted by references - in a previous book by General Sir Peter de la Billiere, Britain's Gulf war commander - to a failed operation to sabotage Iraqi Scud missile launchers. Chris Ryan, the one Bravo Two Zero team member who escaped to Syria, subsequently wrote a book about his experiences.

Mr Coburn is identified in the McNab book as "Mark the Kiwi", who was shot twice in the leg in close-quarter fighting before he was captured, chained to a bed and tortured.

In the New Zealand hearings, James Farmer QC, for the British Government, argued that both Mr Coburn and the television channel, TVNZ, breached secrecy contracts for SAS soldiers imposed by the Ministry of Defence in 1996 to try and stop the flow of memoirs.

Willie Akel, a lawyer for TVNZ, argued that a ban would have been pointless in Mr Coburn's case, since the programme contained nothing new. "Bearing in mind the totality of the material is in the public domain already, it was reasonable for TVNZ to think there would not be any difficulties," he said yesterday.

The court refused the Ministry of Defence the right to pursue its case at the Privy Council. Mr Coburn hopes that Reed will publish his book in New Zealand. A copy of the manuscript is understood to have been sent to Hodder Headline, the British publisher. Hodder is reported to have sent a copy of the manuscript to the MoD for vetting.

An MoD spokesman said last night it was not prepared to tolerate unauthorised publications by former members of the special forces. "They are bad for morale, generate suspicion, threaten personal security and effect the valuable relationship [the special forces] have with allies and other organisations with which they work."

The Times (Nov 27/98)

McNab: claims the right decision was made

SAS documentary claims regiment ignored help calls


THE SAS let its men down by ignoring their calls for help, a New Zealander who served with the elite force in the Gulf War said yesterday.

The special forces soldier, known as "Mark the Kiwi" in the bestselling Gulf War book Bravo Two Zero but referred to as Mike Coburn yesterday, spoke out on a current affairs programme screened in New Zealand last night.

The British Government had gone to the highest court in New Zealand - the Court of Appeal - to stop TVNZ from running the interview with Mr Coburn, but the judges rejected the plea and refused the British Attorney-General leave to appeal for an injunction to the Privy Council, which is still the court of last resort for New Zealand.

Mr Coburn said last night that when on operations SAS soldiers had a device called a "guardnet", which meant they could communicate directly with their squadron.

"That's a fixed frequency, which may or may not work, but it's there and that's what we managed to get through on, saying we needed help. Unfortunately, that was ignored," he said.

Mr Coburn added that he felt the hierarchy of the regiment during the Gulf War let a lot of its soldiers down. "They didn't lie to us, but we were misled," he said.

He said it would have been all right if the soldiers had known before they left on operations that calls for help would be ignored: "You can get that mindset in your head and then you make your own contingencies for that. That was certainly never made clear to us before we went out. I was disgusted."

Andy McNab, author of Bravo Two Zero, said on the programme that the right decision was made to ignore the calls. Had an aircraft been sent to help, it would have been shot down, he said.


Sunday Times (Nov 29/98)
A third member of Bravo Two Zero, the SAS mission during the Gulf war, wants to publish his controversial account of what happened. The government is determined to block it. Marie Colvin reports on the battles of 'Soldier 5'

Breaking ranks

When the Iraqi gunners opened fire on Mike Coburn, a former SAS man now at odds with the British government, it was the nightmare end to a mission that could not have gone more wrong. The corporal was part of the famous Bravo Two Zero patrol behind enemy lines during the Gulf war and was only six miles from the sanctuary of the Syrian border.

His squad, infiltrated to sabotage Iraqi communication lines and Scud missile launches, had been rumbled within two days, forcing a desperate flight across the desert. The story of how three SAS men died, four were captured and one escaped was told by Andy McNab in a bestselling book that gave a gripping account of heroic failure. Chris Ryan, the member of the squad who escaped, later wrote his account of events.

Now Coburn, called "Mark the Kiwi" in McNab's book, wants to have his say and, in the nature of war, the participants recollect things differently. By the time what remained of the patrol made its last stand, Coburn and McNab, the squad commander, were alone. "The first round, when it hit my leg, was quite strange because there wasn't any pain initially," Coburn said last week.

"It was like this huge wave of nausea went over me, I mean really intense, certainly more intense than anything I ever felt before. It was like somebody taking a sledgehammer to my ankle and just smashing it on there. But there wasn't any pain."

Nor was there any escape. "Another round went off through my arm and then the pain sort of came along and I started screaming. I was screaming my head off," he said, speaking in a television documentary that was broadcast in New Zealand last week after a court rejected attempts by the British government to stop the programme.

McNab, interviewed for the same programme, remembered a different scenario. "There was certainly no screaming and no noise coming from him," he said. He repeated the account he wrote in Bravo Two Zero, the title of his book taken from the squad's radio call sign.

"So far as I was concerned, he [Coburn] was dead as soon as they opened fire because the contact was five to seven metres away and they sort of just opened up with automatic fire. You just look at it and say, thankfully he's not lying there dying, because you tend to hear that. People will make sure you know they're alive."

McNab escaped, he wrote in his book, but was captured later that day. The injured Coburn was captured on the spot. It seems the ranks of the SAS patrol, once so close in fierce camaraderie, are dissolving into mutual recriminations as the survivors of the mission vie to tell their stories.

McNab's tale earned him a multi-million-pound fortune. Ryan, the only member of the team to escape, wrote The One That Got Away, a decidedly less heroic account of the ill-fated mission. He fell out with McNab over his portrayal of McNab as a glory-hunter and an ineffective leader. When a television dramatisation of Ryan's book was broadcast, McNab wrote to The Times, describing the programme as fact turned into fiction.

"It is a pity that he [Ryan] chose to cheapen his own achievement and the reputations of the regiment and of comrades who would have sacrificed their lives for his, had the situation demanded, by denigrating those of others," he wrote.

But these are tough men and McNab admitted that he could "take the remaining nonsense in his stride". For others, however, exactly what did happen with Bravo Two Zero remains a sensitive subject.

Coburn - like McNab, the name is a pseudonym - would like to tell his story, but last week the British Government went all the way to the country's highest court to try to stop him from appearing in the TVNZ television programme Assignment.

Though the government lost its case, it is still trying to block Reed, the New Zealand publisher of Spycatcher, from printing Coburn's book, entitled Soldier 5. Reed has ordered the paper and designed the cover, but is pondering its next move in the face of the British government's threat to seize all profits.

Coburn's British publisher has put its plans on hold after a warning from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that it does not approve of Soldier 5. But despite the legal constraints, some of Coburn's story can now be told.

COBURN never imagined himself as a writer, much less one at the centre of international controversy. An orphan, he grew up in Auckland and became a star rugby player.

At 19 and with little inclination for academic pursuits, he watched news broadcasts of the SAS siege of the Iranian embassy in London and decided that the life of the special forces was for him. He joined the New Zealand SAS, passing selection easily. He was something of a loose cannon in his youth and he ran foul of even the few restrictions placed on the notoriously independent service. After an exile to the ranks of the regular army, Coburn "learnt discipline" and was readmitted to his chosen regiment.

He applied to the British SAS, regarded as the toughest and most skilled, for the challenge. He passed the selection course with ease and joined McNab's squadron on the secret SAS base at Stirling Lines, Hereford, shortly before the Gulf war.

On January 10, 1991, days before allied planes began bombing Iraq, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia under McNab's command. Their secret sortie into Iraq was ill-starred from the beginning. The squad was dropped near an Iraqi army encampment. They could not communicate with their base - they had been given the wrong frequencies. On day two, they were spotted by a child who had followed his goats into the wadi where they were hiding.

It was 300km south to the Saudi border, or 120km north to Syria; McNab decided to make a run for Syria. McNab took an executive decision to hijack a vehicle to the Syrian border, an action that would lead to disaster.

Coburn and others in the squad wanted to continue cross-country, worried they would be too exposed on a road studded with checkpoints. But they deferred to McNab's experience as commander. They flagged down the first headlights that came along - only to find they had hijacked a yellow taxi and in the end had to shoot their way out of a traffic jam.

In his book, McNab says the eight-man patrol killed 250 Iraqis in their fire fights. Coburn is less certain: last week he said the number of Iraqis "slotted" - to use McNab's phrase - could have been one or 1,000. The conditions made it impossible to tell.

After he was wounded and captured, Coburn would not see McNab again until they were both released to the Red Cross in Baghdad. The young New Zealander suffered horrific beatings during the six weeks he was held by the Iraqis. They accused him of being an Israeli because of his dark complexion and circumcision, and beat him severely, day after day, sometimes in shifts. They refused him medical treatment for the gaping wound in his foot. His interrogators would prod the wound to cause him further pain.

He remains stoic about the experience. "I was beaten. I don't know if that is torture or not," he said. "They would punch you in the head, and kick you and soften you up before the next guys came in."

Unlike McNab, Coburn is bitter about the decision not to rescue the squad, as much for his three dead friends as for himself. The squad had managed to get out a call that they needed help on Guardnet, an emergency frequency that communicated directly to the SAS base in Saudi Arabia.

No help was sent for fear a rescue helicopter would be shot down. Coburn still feels let down. He believes they should have been told before setting off on their mission that calls for help would be ignored. "They didn't lie to us, but we were misled," he said. "You can get that mindset in your head and then you make your own contingencies. That was certainly never made clear to us before we went out. I was disgusted."

McNab, on the other hand, believes the commander back at base took the right decision to leave them to their fate.

After six months' recuperation, Coburn returned to active service for five more years, doing tours in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, mostly in intelligence work. He has not revealed any details of the operations he took part in, but said of Ulster: "It's something that I'm quite proud of that I did my time over there."

HE left the SAS in 1996 because of his frustration with an officer corps he describes as "elitist". But he still fiercely defends the regiment. "Who are they going to turn to when they get something like Prince's Gate [the siege of the Iranian embassy]? Who are they going to call when the world is falling apart behind them, and they're screaming out for somebody to go up there and sort the situtation out?" he asks.

After the Gulf war, he married Sue, an aerobics teacher from Hereford. They seemed to have settled well into the local life, with three daughters and many friends. But he now feels like a hunted man and has decided he must move back to New Zealand.

He was obliged to sign an agreement preventing him from divulging his experiences in the SAS, a measure brought in after McNab turned into a bestselling author.

After leaving the army, he joined the "circuit" of security jobs that are generally filled from the ranks of ex-SAS officers and now works for a high-profile British corporation in Africa.

Quiet and soft-spoken, he says he decided to write a book to give his account in memory of his three fallen friends. Fourteen months ago, as he was finishing the manuscript for Soldier 5, he was tracked down by Stephen Davis, a New Zealand journalist, who persuaded him to talk on television.

Unlike McNab who has never revealed his face, Coburn agreed to be interviewed without disguise. He said he wanted viewers to be able to "see his eyes" and make up their own minds.

Whatever other viewers thought, the government still has him and his family in its sights. His wife also faces an injunction against speaking out because she has read his manuscript. She believes she is followed whenever she leaves home, even if only to go to the post office.

The couple have been house-hunting in Auckland. Friends say they are hoping for a new life.

The sensitivities over what really happened with Bravo Two Zero, however, are unlikely to go away. McNab's account will be given further impetus when the BBC broadcasts a dramatisation of his book, starring Sean Bean, early next year.

Coburn still faces the wrath of the MoD as he attempts to give his tale of what happened by getting Soldier 5 published. He is not deterred: for the surviving members of Bravo Two Zero, no longer the comrades they once were, the motto is now: Who Dares, Writes.


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