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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 10:26 GMT
UK's mountain warfare elite
A 45 Commando Royal Marine leads a joint British-US patrol in Kosovo
The brigade was deployed in the cold of Kosovo
It is no surprise the Marines of 45 Commando have been chosen for Britain's new mission in the harsh climate and terrain of the Afghan winter.

45 Commando was the first unit to specialise in the mountain and cold weather warfare role during the early 1970s, preparing to defend Norway against any invasion during the Cold War.

Part of 3 Commando Brigade, the unit's soldiers have been on 48-hour standby at their base in Arbroath, Scotland since November last year.

45 Commando missions
1943: Unit formed
1944: D-Day landings
1956: Suez invasion
1982: Falklands War
1991: Humanitarian help to Kurds in Iraq
1994: Reinforcing Kuwaiti border
2001: Exercise in Oman
A core component of the UK's Joint Rapid Reaction Force, the brigade is on permanent readiness to deploy across the globe.

Soldiers from 40 Commando have already been on duty in Afghanistan in guarding Bagram airport.

Now their fellow troops in 45 Commando will have a more offensive role in trying to root out the remaining al-Qaeda forces still active in the Afghan mountains.

It is not the first time the unit, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Chicken, has been called to the front line in recent years.

1994 saw 45 Commando deployed to the Kuwaiti border to deter Iraq, for example.

Between combat and peacekeeping missions, the vast military exercise in Oman topped up skills already honed in arctic training exercises.

45 Commando is one of the three units that make up 3 Brigade, whose troops total about 3,500 troops divided into three battalion-sized units of infantry soldiers.

The other battalion-sized units are 40 Commando based in Taunton and 42 Commando in Plymouth.

A 42 Commando patrols makes its way through the Sierra Leone jungle
The brigade has also operated in the jungle conditions of Sierra Leone

The origins of the brigade can be traced back to the formation of the first commando units in 1940, at the request of then-Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.

He called for "specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down on these [enemy occupied] coasts".

The emphasis was on daring, tough soldiers, who were extremely proficient in small unit tactics and stealthy approaches - often upon heavily defended targets.

Like other parts of the brigade, 45 Commando saw almost continuous action - returning to the UK in 1967 after 24 years of operational service abroad.

Those years saw the brigade take part in the Anglo-French Suez invasion in 1956, an operation which saw the first use by UK forces of helicopters in the assault role.

Its troops were amongst the first to be drafted into Northern Ireland in 1961 and have served there almost every year since.

Pivotal moment

In 1982 the brigade engaged in the most important conflict in its history - the Falklands War.

With other components of the Royal Marines, the brigade sailed for the Falkland Islands within five days of being warned for operations, and staged an extremely successful amphibious landing.

A 42 Commando marine on patrol in a blizzard in Crossmaglen, South Armagh
The brigade has also served in Northern Ireland

The brigade fought throughout the six-week campaign in mountainous territory, which culminated with the surrender of the Argentine forces on the island.

The Royal Marines' success in this conflict prompted a defence ministry rethink on budget-cutting plans which could have spelled an end for the amphibious forces.

And in post-Cold War conditions, the brigade has been keeping busy.

Its troops were deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina throughout the 1990s.

In spring 2000 the brigade headed out on HMS Ocean to help evacuate British nationals from Sierra Leone.

The same year, the brigade spent six months in Kosovo in the same year, leading multi-national troops on Operation Agricola IV. In Operation Safe Haven in 1991, 45 Commando protected Kurdish Iraqi refugees stranded in the mountains between Northern Iraq and Turkey.

And it continues to carry out regular Arctic climbing and mountain exercises in Norway - the only British troops to do so - while jungle warfare has also been on its training regime.

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