A new breed of warrior has emerged to fight a global plague of coups, kidnappings and assassinations: the commando. Follow these international super soldiers on actual covert missions as they take on the world’s worst villains.

Episode 03 – The British SAS: Attack in the Desert

January 17, 1991 sets a new benchmark in the history of warfare—by the end of the first day of Operation Desert Storm, U.S. bombers and fighter jets have already established air superiority over Iraq. For the U.S.-led coalition, it promises to be a clean, high-tech war. But that night, Sadam Hussein strikes back with volley after volley of deadly Scud missiles aimed at both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. preaches restraint on the part of the Israelis—if they enter the war, the fragile coalition of Western nations and Arab states waging war against Iraq will disintegrate.

When allied bombers fail to stop the Scuds from the air, the job falls to the British SAS on the ground. Since WWII, these highly trained commandos have been used to carry out sabotage and reconnaissance missions deep behind enemy lines. On January 21st, eight members of SAS squadron Bravo Two Zero under the command of Sergeant Andy McNab are airlifted to northwestern Iraq. “The whole regiments effort was focused on stopping the scuds firing into Israel,” according to McNab. “The problem was there was no information; very little mapping and no satellite imagery of the area.” That lack of information would prove to be Bravo Two Zero’s undoing.

The patrol tries to dig a “laying up” position along a main supply route before daylight exposes them to the enemy. But the ground is solid bedrock for miles around. Instead, they are forced to hike 12 miles before dawn to find a hiding place in a low gully. A goat wanders into the gully, followed by an Iraqi child. Unwilling to kill a child, the commandos slip away from their compromised position. The only way out is a 75-mile march to Syria. They log over 50 miles–the equivalent of two marathons—the first night.

On the second night, they engage Iraqi troops in a fierce firefight. Although numerous Iraqis are killed, the SAS escape. Subzero temperatures and lack of water disorient the commandos, however, and they become separated. One group hijacks a yellow cab along a lonely desert highway and boldly drives through several towns before being caught in a military convoy. They flee on foot in a hail of bullets. The other group must swim across a freezing river and engage the enemy again and again.

Despite the odds, all eight commandos come within a few miles of the Syrian border. Two die of exposure and one dies of gunshot wounds sustained in a firefight with Iraqi soldiers. Four of the commandos are captured by the Iraqis. They are tortured and imprisoned until the end of the war. But one soldier—medic Chris Ryan—actually makes it all the way to Syria. Suffering from dehydration, septic wounds and uranium poisoning from drinking toxic run-off, Ryan has walked, run and crawled 186 miles in eight nights.

It is later established by British intelligence that the members of Bravo Two Zero—just eight men–left 250 Iraqi dead and wounded in their wake.