In May 2000 Tony Blair had been Britain’s prime minister for three years and was still very much in his honeymoon period. Suddenly British forces became embroiled in a little-known civil war in Sierra Leone. How and why?
Brad Tinnion, a 28-year-old SAS commando, was the only casualty of Operation Barras, a daring mission to rescue 11 British soldiers being held captive by wild and indisciplined rebels deep in the African jungle.
But why did Bombardier Tinnion have to die in a dark corner of the former British colony of Sierra Leone 40 years after it had gained independence?
The story begins in May 2000 when British troops were deployed as a peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, which had been riven by civil war since 1991.
Revolutionary United Front rebels, led by Foday Sankoh and heavily backed by Charles Taylor, a warlord from over the border in Liberia, had conquered a large swathe of the country.
The RUF had recruited hundreds of child soldiers and had committed widespread atrocities during the war, including murder, rape and amputation of limbs by machete.
In early 2000 they rejected a peace agreement with the Sierra Leone government and began to threatening the capital, Freetown.
Maverick UK Commander Ignored Orders
On 7 May 2000 Brigadier David Richards – who would later become Chief of the Defence Staff – arrived on the ground in Freetown with 1,000 troops.
In his 2014 autobiography, Taking Command, Richards said his mandate had been to evacuate British…