Desert Warriors

Photographs & Text by Tom Stoddart

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The 6th annual combat-oriented Warrior Competition took place at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center in Amman, Jordan. The state of the art 200 million dollar center hosted 33 teams of Special Operations Forces from 19 nations who competed in a series of extreme events designed to test their skills, tactics and endurance. The elite 5 man teams were put through their paces by ex-Special Forces operators from Mission X who designed and managed the Warrior Competition. At the end of 5 gruelling days the ‘Snow Leopard’ commandos from China were victorious over rivals from Canada, Holland, Russia, USA, Palestine, Kazakhstan etc.

In the official program King Abdullah said, “We have to understand that it is called international terrorism, however, we as special forces, special operations units all over the world are not yet international. The bad guys always work together, have always been coordinating and have always been international. The good guys never have been. Progress has been made in intelligence sharing. We have to work together in order to defeat the bad guys will.

Soldiers know better than anybody whether they’re training is good or not. Soldiers will always know if the instructor coming to their country is showing him 100percent of what that person knows, or just showing him a bit. Our philosophy in Jordan is to share everything we have with our brothers and counterparts around the Middle East and beyond. At the end of the day if your partners are strong you are strong”.

Harry Taylor is co-founder of Mission X. He served with distinction in 45 Commando Royal Marines and 22 SAS operating on covert missions worldwide. Harry is a qualified high alpine mountain guide and regularly leads expeditions to the world’s highest peaks. He also works as a technical advisor and stunt double on Hollywood movies and TV documentaries. He chatted to Reportage by Getty Images Photographer Tom Stoddart.


Mission X ( was co-founded 18 months ago by Charles “CK” Redlinger and myself while we were both working here at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Center (KASOTC as Special Forces instructors. This year we were asked by KASOTC to plan and manage the Warrior Competition that attracted 33 teams from 19 countries.

At Mission X we are committed to adventure and calculated risk-taking so we created a Special Operations Leadership and Development Program for civilians and company employees that would give them a controlled but very realistic and challenging experience. Our team members come from the worlds most recognised Special Forces units such as the British SAS, Parachute Regiment, US Navy SEALs, US Delta Force, New Zealand SAS and others.

We also offer technical advice and training to producers, directors and actors who are making films with military aspects. Now that the military are drawing down from Afghanistan and Iraq there is great interest in the conflicts from Hollywood, just as after Vietnam. There are a great many stories to tell about individuals who have shown incredible heroism and units that have accomplished amazing operations. Many war movies suffer because of the poor advice that they have been given and that’s where we can help. As it happens Jordan is a fantastic country that replicates the land and terrain of Afghanistan and Iraq so people can come here to film and we will support that by making actors look like soldiers, walk like soldiers and talk like soldiers.

We also have a proposal on the table to make a Hollywood film about Mission X and the Warrior Competition. The globally known Director loves the concept of the competition and of making a movie along the lines of Top Gun. There is also interest in making a high quality reality TV series that focus’s on our people, which is great because there are wonderful characters on our team and we are very proud of them. For example we have two guys with Mission X who were seriously wounded during combat operations.

They are both fantastic operators. Martin Hewitt is an ex Captain in the Parachute Regiment. He’s a very smart guy with a lot of battle experience who, before his injuries, was a rising star within the regiment and tipped to go on to be a general. Being wounded ended that career but he’s now driven in different directions from creating a business to climbing mountains and pushing the boundaries of what he’s capable of. He has won gold, silver and bronze medals for ski racing and set two world records for walking unsupported to the North Pole and climbing Mount Manaslu in the Himalayas.

Matt Nyman is an ex US Delta Force operator who was seriously injured in a helicopter crash during a night operation in Baghdad, Iraq. He’s an inspirational man who despite his life changing injuries has climbed Mount Denali in Alaska and Mount Lobuche in Nepal. Matt is a humble, driven individual who is still using his considerable skills to serve his country in an advisory role in the war against drug cartels.

There is a lot being done with charities to support wounded warriors from the recent conflicts and that’s fantastic, but at Mission X we want those guys who have seen action to work with us on events like this or to run projects no matter where they are. This is not tokenism or charity because they can do anything that we can do and actually do a lot more than most. Personally, I find it inspirational to be with them especially when we are climbing in the mountains. It’s totally humbling to see what they have to overcome just to move around with one leg or one arm. They are great guys who have the ability to see the light and go forward and our hope is that other men and women who are struggling with their lives after being wounded and sitting in that dark place feeling sorry for themselves will get inspiration and confidence from what Martin and Matt have achieved.


The whole concept of the competition came from King Abdullah II after the Amman hotel bombings in 2005 that killed 60 people and injured over 100.  The terrorist attacks within his own country spurred him to fight back and he decided to invite Special Forces and elite counter terrorism police units from around the world to gather at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center to compete annually and assess their fitness levels, shooting skills and tactical planning. The tasks we set them test everything and are valuable because the teams and individuals can measure their weaknesses as well as their strengths. The competition also breeds cohesion among friendly Special Operations Forces who are partnered against terrorism.


If you are a young man and you join up to be a soldier you want to be the best you can be and eventually you will be drawn to the special forces and the special forces community because that is the pinnacle of all soldering in any country in the world. You will be drawn there like a moth to a flame and you will want to test yourself and measure yourself with the best of the best. When I went through the Special Air Service (SAS) selection there were 12 of us who made it out of 120 guys and I’m still friends with all of them, at least those that are still alive. I was happy to go on any operation in any part of the world and do any thing because I knew that we were equals. We were individuals but we all thought the same and had the same thread that ran through us. No matter where I was I could trust them completely. Whether it was breaking through a door at an embassy or dropping onto a jungle operation I knew that those guys left or right of me would do their job.

Physical attributes are important but it’s 90% from the neck up. Any one who makes it into the SAS is very determined, never going to give up, very focussed and single minded to the point of being a difficult person at times.

Being a good communicator and team player is also important. Take a situation such as a hijacked aircraft at an airport. The team would go on the ground and as time is short the briefing would be done quickly and with economy of words as each man would know his position and responsibilities within the team to get the job done.


During the North African desert campaign in the Second World War the SAS under its founder Colonel David Stirling destroyed over 400 hundred aircraft and hundreds of enemy vehicles. Today the value of a Special Forces soldier or unit is now even higher than it’s ever been because the terrorist threat is all around the world and the role of Special Forces is far more leveraged up than it ever has been. Whatever it costs to train an SAS soldier – a million pounds for instance – in effect represents massive economic value if you are the Prime Minister of Britain because of their capabilities and skills. Whether it’s being dropped into Libya or being on the ground in East Africa they are massively effective at both a strategic and government level.


Absolutely, as you know the last few years has been a massively busy time for all the special forces that have been at the forefront of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq so they really haven’t had time to focus on anything else except that. Even their own skills in certain areas have degraded and they will have to re learn them. So now with the draw down the war against terrorism will take a different direction with a new frontline being drawn in places like Somalia and East Africa generally. So Special Forces will always be busy but if the resources were made available the skills we have would be fantastically deployed in combating lots of environmental issues. Specifically poaching in Africa where specialist operators could get to the root of the problem and basically solve it. If you believe that an animal has the right to co-exit in this world with human beings then we have a duty to support them when they are being slaughtered.  Some species are under siege from guys with AK47’s and nobody is fighting their corner so they need protecting from the human race and someone needs to step into the middle of that fight. If nothing is done the rhino will be totally extinct and we’ll be down to genetically making them in test tubes, which is sick.


The clear winner this year is the Chinese who have set a benchmark for all the other teams. They are a very fit athletic team with high levels of shooting and technical skills. They have been very accurate with pistols, carbine and sniping and that has won them the day. Tactically, during the Urban Assault event, they didn’t do so well, but they will have learnt from that and they have already said they will go home and work on that side of their business.

I’ve also been impressed and surprised by some of the Middle Eastern teams this week. The Lebanese Black Panthers are at a very high level both in fitness and technically, while the Jordanian teams who are hardy fit guys are always of a high standard. Other teams like the Canadians and Dutch are experienced operators who have seen combat and they have also done very well. The Dutch team are a Maritime Special Ops Force and very well trained in anti piracy which is a big problem these days. They have been tested this week and they are keen to get even better in all the scenarios they might face whether it be fast roping onto a tanker off the coast of Somalia or having to storm an aircraft at Schiphol airport.