http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journali...chosen-few-who-are-a-force-like-no-other.html There was a global intake of breath last month, when an SAS mission to make contact with the Libyan rebels unravelled in humiliating fashion. The fact that the world’s most fabled Special Forces unit was brought low by a group of farmers was, according to one former commander, like Lewis Hamilton going out of the British Grand Prix on the first lap. Since the pre-eminent skills of the Special Air Service first came to the world’s attention on the balconies of the Iranian embassy 31 years ago, the regiment has been transformed from a little-known ace up the military’s sleeve to the superstar of the Special Forces world, home to soldiers of supreme guile and ruthlessness. “Many are called, but few are chosen” is a phrase often quoted during SAS selection – some solace for the 90 per cent who fail to get through. The six-month process is regarded as the most arduous in the world: candidates undertake a month of running over the Welsh mountains with 50lb loads, culminating in the 40-mile Endurance march, then spend weeks in the jungle, suffering dehydration and deprivation, followed by another course in escape and evasion, culminating in tests of resistance to interrogation. This produces men who do not understand the concept of defeat, who defy taking “no” for an answer, and who have built an enviable reputation for their country. For America, the SAS and their colleagues in the Special Boat Service are one of the two great strategic assets we have to offer, alongside our nuclear deterrent. The first words that come from the mouths of US generals visiting Britain – such as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, both from Special Forces backgrounds – are of praise for the SAS. They saw the effect that a few score troopers had in Baghdad during the darkest days. It was the SAS who took the fight to the enemy, who “neutralised” al-Qaeda operatives, Sunni insurgents and Shia militias with ruthless efficiency. In the past year, the SAS has worked its way through the Taliban high command, taking out its members on an “industrial scale”. No surprise, then, that there was some choice debate in SAS circles when David Cameron, in his early days at No 10, allowed a US SEAL team to rescue Linda Norgrove, a Scottish aid worker kidnapped by the Taliban. It ended disastrously, after she was killed by a hand grenade thrown by one of the US troops. The commando in question had form for such antics – which, had he been in the SAS, would already have led to instant dismissal. Recently, the Coalition has come to appreciate the SAS’s qualities: the defence review significantly increased Special Forces funding, to somewhere between £2 billion and £3 billion – almost a tenth of the MoD budget. Yet at the same time, finding the right personnel is becoming increasingly difficult. As we reported yesterday, a letter from the Director of Infantry has bemoaned a shortfall in the number of recruits coming through. This recruiting crisis is in part down to the fact that young men eager for combat find their thirst slaked by a tour of Helmand, in which they will engage in far more firefights than their SAS colleagues. “I don’t need to go back,” one told me. “I’ve had my Hemingway moments.” Another asked: “Why do six months of selection hell, when you get all the fighting you want in one tour?” However, the work of the SAS is of a different order entirely. It produces outstanding leaders: six out of the Army’s 36 infantry battalions are commanded by Hereford men. Yet it is probably the most democratic military unit in existence. Most decisions are taken after a “Chinese parliament”, in which every trooper has his say. Officers have refused orders if they think them unsafe, as one did when told to storm an airfield on the Argentine mainland during the Falklands War. The service also attracts the eccentric. One squadron invited an artist (and former Para) to Baghdad to paint an assault on a house containing an al-Qaeda operative. The resulting canvas is now said to hang in the officers’ mess in Hereford. And, in the week of the royal wedding, it’s pertinent to recount how two SAS soldiers changed the fate of a nation. Within hours of Prince William’s mother being married, one unfortunate attendee – Sir Dawda Jawadra, the president of Gambia – found himself out of office after rebels staged a coup in his absence. Two SAS men were sent out, picked up weapons in Senegal, then proceeded, with the help of some Senagalese paratroopers, to retake the airport and the radio station, secure the capital, rescue the president’s wife, and restore order in time for Sir Dawdra’s triumphant arrival. Light forces that can operate with such gumption behind enemy lines are one of Britain’s most valuable military assets. They are also something we should do everything we can to hold on to.