Operation TELIC

Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Leader, 2003
The Victory Arch, TELIC 1, Baghdad, Iraq

Operation Telic, Iraq. March 2003 - May 2011

Iraq oil fields, Rumaila, 2003

In early 2003, the UN declared Iraq in breach of a series of resolutions and the scene was set for what became the Second Gulf War. US President Bush and Prime Minister Blair sought support from the UN to act, claiming that Iraq had not disposed of the weapons of mass destruction held since the last Iraq War. Generally, World opinion was against them, but they did gain support from Spain and Australia.

Initial Deployment

Combined Air Operations Centre Middle East, 2001
OPERATION TELIC: BRITISH FORCES Arrival into Theatre, 2003
Combined Air Operations Centre Middle East, 2001
Camp Eagle, Kuwait Sunset, 2003
TCW DET 11 RDV with 16AAB, Iraq
VSC 501 and RDV, Qalat-Sikar Airfield, Iraq
Saddam’s statue topples, April 2003
Operation Telic, Battle group, Iraq 2003
1 Airspace Control-Centre & TCW detachment, Tallil Airbase, 2004
US Black Hawks, Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq 2003
TCW Det - WMD, Green Zone Bagdad, 2003
Combined Operations Centre, Al Ude
Basrah Air head, 2006
Operation TELIC Remembrance Wall, Iraq

As 2003 began, both US and British Forces began to deploy around the Gulf, including large numbers from Tactical Communications Wing. RAF Transportable Telecommunication System detachments went to Kuwait and Qatar, and as reinforcements in Saudi Arabia, where the Joint Force Air Component was located, as well as Special Forces deployments in undisclosed locations around the Middle East.

In order to continue support of Operation ORACLE, a second base in Oman was reopened. Two further detachments supported UK Land components, initially located within Northern Kuwait. With Tactical Communications Wing detachments in place, those located within Kuwait were under constant threat of chemical missile attack and were forced to react and done protective NBC clothing on numerous occasions. Thankfully, the US Patriot batteries held a good record of accuracy, so none of these missile attacks were successful. The two satellite communications VSC 501/Rapid Deployment Vehicle 

detachments supporting ground forces, with the UK Armoured Division and 16 Air Assault Brigade at Camp Eagle, were located just a few miles from the Iraqi border, awaiting the start of the ground invasion. 

On March 19, 2003, the air campaign began. Two days later the ground invasion started and the Tactical Communications Wing detachment supporting 16 Air Assault Brigade were on their way to protect the Al Rumaila oil fields in the southwest of Iraq, having crossed the Texas breach with lead elements of 16AAB and the Royal Irish Regiment.

The other Land attached Tactical Communications Wing detachment moved into Iraq some days later, occupying an Air Base at Talill. They remained for two weeks before moving on to Baghdad, supporting a Battlefield Intelligence Unit that was seeking weapons of mass destruction. Along with the Special Forces, they were the first British unit to set-up at the International Airport in the capital.

The Iraqi forces were soon in disarray, and Operation TELIC began to address the security of the country and begin the job of rebuilding and preparing to hand back sovereignty. It was hoped that Iraq could again be governed by its own people by summer 2004. Most of the British effort was located in Basra, where a further Tactical Communications Wing detachment had been set-up which would remain in place until early in 2004. In Baghdad, the Tactical Communications Wing detachment continued to support what had become the Joint Security Group, as the capital became increasingly more hazardous, experiencing mortar attacks which damaged Tactical Communications Wing equipment.

With the need for an increased stabilisation force, another detachment was despatched from Brize Norton to Talill Air Base, as 1 Airspace Control Centre deployed a type 101 radar at Talill Air Base. This detachment was to support the surveillance and correlation of the air cover over Southern Iraq for a year, with 1 Airspace Control Centre pulling out of Iraq in 2005. 


Stabalisation and Ongoing Commitments 


Operation TELIC finished at the end of the fighting phase in Iraq and was replaced with

Operation TELIC 2 at the beginning of the ‘Peace keeping’ Phase. Tactical Communications Wing provided communications for UK support elements in Baghdad and around Iraq. In May 2003, Expeditionary Radar and Airfield Squadron, soon to become 1 Sqn Tactical Communications Wing, began their operational deployment, providing navigational aids, ground-to-air communications, airfield lighting and Precision Approach Radar pulse radar to the International Airport in Basra. This was another long-term task, supplementing other 90 Signals Unit and Tactical Communications Wing detachments across Iraq. Operation TELIC ended in 2009. Fortunately, Tactical Communications Wing suffered no fatalities during this conflict, but 179 British Armed Forces personnel died serving on Operation TELIC between the start of the campaign in March 2003 and the end of operations in July 2009.

Operation Telic, TACATU

TacATC/TCW, Brigade Air Operations Cell
RAF Merlin, Maysan Province Relief In Place (RIP)
RAF Merlin HLZ, Operation TELIC 9, Maysan Province
Light Brigade Battle Group, Counter Insurgency, Maysan Provence, Iraq

TacATC was formed after the Falklands Conflict to provide Visual Flight Rules (VFR) air traffic services to aircraft operating from bare base or forward operating bases, or from Tactical Landing Zones (TLZ) worldwide. Originally a flight within the Field Communications Sqn (FCS) TCW, the Flight consisted of 20 personnel, with two Air Traffic officers in charge. The original remit was to support 5 Airborne Brigade (5 ABB) and Special Forces (SF) Units with TacATC, airfield coordination and tasking, deployment of the Tactical Flare Path and Portable Airfield Ground Lighting (PAGL) systems. The flight also provided RAF Liaison and airhead communication to 5 ABB HQ and trained to deploy their equipment via Tactical Air Land Operations, (TALO).


After the first Gulf War, the Flight changed names to Airfield Communications Flight (ACF); however, this was short lived as the Flight was eventually disbanded as an FCS flight, only to be reformed as TacATCU, RAF Brize Norton. Since then, the section has steadily grown and is currently made up of 9 Tactical Controllers and one corporal Air Traffic Control Assistant. In recent times TacATCU personnel have been at the forefront of tasking, locating and establishing the initial airhead in support to major operations (e.g, Pristina, Bagram, Kabul and Camp Bastion (Afghanistan) airfields) to ensure the safe and expeditious flow of aircraft supporting troops on the ground. 

Members of the unit can also be inserted into enemy occupied airfields as part of a 16 Air Assault Brigade (16 AAB) assault by either High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) or via tandem parachute to assist in the establishment of an operational airhead within a tight time frame.


Whilst training in peacetime, TacATCU provide day and night VFR services at disused airfields, or act as TLZ Safety Officers (TLZSO)to aircraft operating from natural strips.



Operation TELIC, TacATCU and TCW, Maysan Provence, Iraq

Basra Airfield TacAN, Iraq
C130 Hercules, Rear door Pallets
RAF C130 Hercules cockpit at Night
Sun Rise, Maysan Provence, Iraq
C130 Hercules, Tactical Air Land Operations (TALO)

During Operation TELIC, Iraq, TACATCU were tasked to support the Force Head Quarters with Tactical Landing Strips (TLS) and Helicopter Landing Zones (HLZ). The mandate being to enable Resupply and Relief In Place (RIP) to troops patrolling the Masan province, and Special Forces.

The article below entitled ‘RAF’s Secret Mission’s in Iraq’ by Sky News Defence Correspondent Geoff Meade articulates this and similar classified missions:

‘Hercules transport aircraft have been ferrying supplies to an Army mobile battle group operating in secret along the border between Iraq and Iran. The flights, under cover of darkness, are the biggest long-term air drop the service has operated since the massed parachute assaults of World War Two.


I was the first journalist to be allowed on to one of the sorties out of the massive coalition air base at al Udeid in Qatar.


Although it’s past one in the morning, the runways are at their busiest.

Two American F-15 fighters take off and then accelerate near vertically. The white flare of their after-burners is the only light in the black moonless Gulf sky.


Coalition aircraft operate by dark where possible, flying while most people are asleep and limiting their vulnerability to small arms or rocket attack from the ground.

So for the  joint RAF and Army crew, night shifts are nothing unusual.


The long fuselage of the latest and most powerful “stretched” Hercules is packed with its maximum payload of 16 tonnes of water and ammunition, divided into one-tonne pallets.


Alongside this consignment, we strap into our tubular fabric seats for take-off in the small area left for three soldiers from the Army’s 47 Air Despatch Squadron.


Like all in the military, they catch sleep while they can and stretch out on the cargo floor for the first hour or so.


During the actual drop their role will be vital: ensuring the load slides off the ramp in under 10 seconds, keeping to a minimum the time we’re over the target.


Although lying low and slow ensures pinpoint accuracy, it also leaves us relatively vulnerable to the sort of ground fire that downed a Hercules in Iraq earlier in the conflict with the loss of ten lives.

That was the biggest single British death toll of the war so far.

The Board of Inquiry into that crash identified a failure of intelligence.

The crew were not told that an American aircraft had come under fire from the same area a few hours before.

In the nearly two years since, I was reassured, such communication gaps had been plugged.


So as we head northwards along the Gulf, the flight deck, protected by Kevlar and titanium armour, makes progress checks with military air traffic controllers on the ground and flying overhead.

Our call sign, “Polecat Five Two”, will be known to those US fighters who took off before us, as well as to British Tornados, on call should a threat be identified.


As we pass Basra and near the drop zone, all lights are cut. The night vision goggles the crew don clearly reveal from this height vehicles and encampments scattered around the desert beneath.

Some may be friendly, more likely not.


This porous border is crossed by traffickers in money, weapons and fighters to fuel the insurgency. Image intensifiers are also used by the enemy, so the slightest chink of light could reveal our position.

Contact established and the position verified by strobes visible only from the air, we are ready.

“Fifteen seconds, action stations,” came the command from the flight deck. Then: “Green on!”


The plane goes into a steep dive, then ascends above the drop zone. In seconds the loads are gone, rattling across the ramp and out into the darkness.


“Stores on the way,” says a matter-of-fact voice, telling those below and in need of the food and water descending towards them.

Sixteen tonnes lighter, the aircraft climbs steeply to a safe altitude and turns homewards. Another delivery safely accomplished.

The deployment of UK troops in Maysan as a mobile battle group, moving base camp every few days, is proving effective and denies their opponents the chance to attack fixed positions.


The British pulled out of Camp Abu Naji, in the volatile provincial capital of Al-Amara this summer, after repeated bombardment.

So, with road convoys still prey to roadside bombs, these air drops and clandestine touchdowns at makeshift landing strips will continue every few days’.

RAF Activities and Background