Not long after Tony Blair and George Bush declared war on Iraq, Blakeley had been deployed to the Gulf. He was given command of eight men and sent on a reconnaissance mission in March 2003 to seize the Qalat Sikkar airfield so that British and American troops could launch air strikes from the location and continue progressing towards Baghdad following the bloody battle of Nasiriyah. It was, says Blakeley who was 25 then, the mission of a lifetime. Securing that airfield would enable troops to advance and change the course of the war. The men selected were from an elite special force.
“Not many people know about the Pathfinders,” says Sandhurst trained Blakeley. A 40-strong unit specialising in airborne insertion, the 16 Air Assault Brigade’s Pathfinder Platoon was largely unknown to the general public, until now.
Nine years after the ill-fated mission he has finally been able to tell his story in a book, Pathfinder, which is being hailed as the new Bravo Two Zero, Andy McNab’s best-selling account of an SAS patrol behind Iraqi enemy lines during the first Gulf War.
“We were known as the Ghost Platoon as we weren’t originally financed but brought about to be the advanced force for the airborne brigade, deployed by helicopters Apocalypse Now style, in the Second World War,” says Blakeley. “Army chiefs created a new force taking some men from the SAS and the best of the Parachute Regiment.”
These days the Pathfinders are some of the most highly trained and secretive of the special forces. Their motto is “First in” because they are sent deep behind enemy lines to set up and operate drop zones, pick-up points and landing sites for airborne operations.
Read More: Express UK