We were effectively surrounded

Lance Corporal Roberts

Lance Corporal Roberts

Lance Corporal Roberts is a section second-in-command in 4 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN). He is currently based in Check Point Attal on Route 601, the main road to Lashkar Gah. He has previously served in Iraq, but this is his first tour of Afghanistan.

In his first blog he looks back at an operation to take the fight to the insurgents. It was an eventful day…

Recently 4 Platoon, B Company 3 MERCIAN have been involved in operations alongside multiples (half platoon) from the Royals Scots Dragoon Guards (SCOTS DG) and the 4th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS).

As the harvests draw to a close it comes as no surprise that we’re witnessing a spike in insurgent hostilities in our Area of Operations (AO). 4 Platoon have been continuing to push into new areas, the no-man’s-land, and take the fight to the insurgents in their own back yard, thus securing our AO and successfully completing our ongoing mission to provide security to the local population.

One key operation is engraved in my thoughts. We were going about our daily routine of patrolling, and as is often the case we received intelligence and an order from Battlegroup Headquarters to conduct a strike operation onto an insurgent shura (meeting).

The shura involved up to 60 insurgents, to the south of Check Point (CP) Yaklang, in an otherwise unpatrolled area. At 1000hrs we hastily departed, and were dropped 4km short of the objective – the location of the shura.

With temperatures reaching 47 degrees, and with 65kg of kit per man, the going was tough. As we advanced on foot towards the objective, atmospherics changed with every step. I distinctly remember turning to the Boss, Lieutenant Cook and saying: “Being point man is the loneliest place on earth”, to be greeted by a wry, knowing smile.

As we pushed on, the insurgent scouting screen was out in force, watching our every step from 1.5 to 2km away, tracking and feeding back our movements. My team went firm on a Built Up Natural Defence line, giving overwatch as another mulitple pushed past. From this position my team tracked 5 men taking up positions around the northern extremity of the shura, with one chap moving from man to man relaying last minute orders – an insurgent team commander. As is often the case we also saw families moving out of the area, knowing the likely outcome of this advance, as well as motorbikes sending messages and dropping men off around the area. Five minutes past and we were on our feet moving slowly but surely towards the objective.

Amazingly we made entry to the reported target building with no insurgents seen – those occupying the north of the target melting away into the surroundings.

Lance Corporal Roberts and one of his men look out over the Green Zone from the roof of a compound.

Lance Corporal Roberts and one of his men look out over the Green Zone from the roof of a compound.

I moved my team onto a compound roof, utilising the height the roof offered to get a better view. From here I placed the sharpshooter focusing on a compound cluster to our west, then having a Lance Corporal spotting for the general purpose machine guns covering the other directions as we faced a 360-degree threat. From this temporary bastion, the SCOTS DGs pushed a multiple forward to the compounds to the west. It was then that we got positive identification on two insurgents with weapons. I radioed the SCOTS DGs  to get them to pull back as myself and the sharpshooter were in a position to suppress the insurgents with fire – but if the multiple pushed on, our field of view would be obscured and we would no longer be able to engage.

It was too late and the multiple was already in front of us. The silence was broken by the inevitable crack and thump of the insurgents hastily-laid ambush roaring to life. As the exposed multiple dived for cover the arcs opened once again, allowing me and the sharpshooter to both accurately suppress the insurgents.

The fighting continued for 6 more hours, with the insurgents occupying firing points to our north, south, east and west. We were effectively surrounded.

Lance Corporal Roberts and his fire team take up a fire position over the wall of a compound.

Lance Corporal Roberts and his fire team take up a fire position over the wall of a compound.

In the exchange of fire we successfully suppressed the insurgents and prepared to return to our CP. As we prepared to extract I witnessed the most amazing spectacle to date. Two American A10 Tank Busters doing a show-of- force thundering flyby 50m overhead, giving the insurgents the fright of their lives and the lads at our location something to really cheer about. Finally on our extraction, after calling for emergency close air support (ECAS) we got an Apache on station overhead. Loaded with a 30mm gun and Hellfire missiles it created a good incentive for any remaining insurgents – who had so effectively boxed us in all day – not to mess with us anymore.

Thanks to the hard work from all the men on the ground we successfully disrupted the enemy, punched into the heart of the insurgents’ territory, and diminished  their numbers. We extracted  a casualty with a broken ankle (a lad who fell on the way out)  and survived for a prolonged period with limited supplies and no chance of a resupply. A true testament to the professionalism and tenacious character of the British Army.

Contact IED

In his latest blog, Lance Corporal Ryder, of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) and currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan, recounts an eventful week which included an armoured patrol vehicle triggering an improvised explosive device. Thankfully there were no serious injuries, although the insurgents said otherwise…

Lance Corporal Ryder's platoon conducting a vehicle check point on Highway 1

Lance Corporal Ryder's platoon conducting a vehicle check point on Highway 1

This week has been one of the more eventful of the tour.

We started the week with a focus on vehicle check points (VCPs) along Highway 1 and route 601. VCPs serve as an effective deterrent to any insurgents wishing to use the main highways and routes for things such as drug running, weapon and improvised explosive device (IED) transportation. It also gives us a perfect opportunity to collect biometric information from the population of Afghanistan. Due to Highway 1 being one of the main supply routes (MSRs) all the way around Afghanistan, it isn’t just the locals who use it. People from all over the country travel along it, around the clock. As with everything we do, the VCPs have been conducted with maximum input, command and control from the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), although at some points we have had to take over and assist them more. The VCPs we conducted turned out successful, and ended  with us gaining a large amount of intelligence about illegal insurgent check points on the MSRs.

Mid-week we conducted a routine ground domination (GDA) patrol around an area called Durai East, which is approximately 1km to the south of our Check Point. The patrol started off like any other, with no insurgent radio chatter or anything. About half an hour in an IED was triggered by the Fire Support Team (FST) vehicle. The force of the blast knocked the Warrior onto its right hand side. When the blast went off soldiers from the second Warrior confirmed people were OK and talking inside the vehicle. At the same time the dismounted troops made best speed over, using the metal detectors in order to avoid any secondary devices. As it turned out all the crew were conscious and not suffering from any serious injury. Whilst this was happening the quick reaction force (QRF) was deployed from the Patrol Base (PB) and assisted in providing protection. The minor casualties were eventually extracted by Chinook helicopter back to the field hospital to be checked over, and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) recovered the vehicle back to Lash Durai. The insurgents claimed they had killed 7 of us and that the bodies were extracted by a fast jet – Which shows just how accurate they are with their reporting and the propaganda they use to spread misinformation.

Shortly after, our platoon was given a new area of operations, still not far away but completely different in terms of ground and threat. The area we have moved into has been seeing an increase in insurgent activity of late. The last few days have been filled with patrols helping us get used to our new area. We are focusing on how different the ground is – more green zone and less desert – and how the local population reacts to ISAF presence. Also it has given us yet another group of ANSF to work with, this time all Afghan National Police (ANP). They all seem very keen to fight and get the insurgents so we’ll see how things go over the next week.

On a lighter note, I go on R&R very soon! I intend on spending 14 days enjoying the UK and catching up on a few missed beers, and sleep… plenty of sleep. That is, of course, providing this ash cloud the people of Iceland have let us have a bit of (again!) doesn’t stop R&R flights. I may have to tab home in that case!

Contact

Sergeant Dale

Sergeant Dale

In his first blog, Sergeant Dale of 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN) – currently deployed on Operation HERRICK 14 in Afghanistan – writes carrying out Operation WILD COBRA on the ground within their area of operations.

Operation WILD COBRA was a deliberate joint company operation with the Aghan Army Tolay (Company) I work with and D Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) to understand the population within the villages in our area of operations (AO).

I was part of a 2-man Tolay Advisory and Training Team (TATT) which was headed up by Warrant Officer Class 2 Gary Latta, who had already been here for a few weeks during the handover period. The Tolay was partnered with D Company 2 PARA for this operation. Over the course of Operation HERRICK 13, D Company 2 PARA showed an excellent approach to partnering and it was clear when I arrived for Operation HERRICK 14 that there was a strong relationship between the Afghan Tolay and the British Company.

The first day of Operation WILD COBRA saw the joint company pushing South from our Patrol Base (PB) in Nahr-e Saraj South District towards the village of Akhonzada – an area which WO2 Latta was keen to inform me was an insurgent breeding ground.

On patrol

On patrol

He went on to say that every time he had been to Akhonzada he had ended up being in a fight with the insurgents. As we pushed through a wadi and started to head west towards the village, we started to get reports of movement from fighting-age males in an and around various compounds in the village. When we finally got into the village, without any incident, we started to notice that the local population were going about their normal daily business. I thought at this point WO2 Latta was trying to employ scare tactics about the area because it was my first patrol here.

The second day of the Operation passed very quickly and with no incidents. We did however have reliable intelligence stating the insurgents knew we were there and that they were there too.

In the village

In the village

On the third day we pushed the joint company towards the Abposhake Wadi where we conducted the same patrol in a village called Shooragas. From the moment we started crossing the wadi we had intelligence that we were being watched and our movements were being reported back to the insurgents. At this point everyone was a little more anxious than normal.

Once in Shooragas, WO2 Latta and Lt Gul Mohammed – the ANA Baluck (Platoon) Commander – conducted a shura with the village elders. Whilst they were all sitting down I was with the ANA assisting in security. It was then that I noticed something not looking quite right. Before I knew it I was on my belt buckle brushing away dirt to see what I had found. Fortunately all was clear.

Once the Shura had been completed we started to move off towards a compound that had been identified by the ANA Tolay Commander as worth a look. It was as we moved between two multiples (half platoons) from D Company we found we had moved into the killing area of a multi-firing point complex ambush as the insurgents opened fire. Both the ANA and D Company Commanders formulated a quick plan and set off to seize the upper hand. The company group was turned to face the firing positions and returned an aggressive initial rate of fire. As I lay in a firing position alongside the Afghan Tolay returning fire towards the now overwhelmed insurgent WO2 Latta informed me that I had now in fact lost my “Afghan cherry”.

During the contact the ANA dispelled quite a lot of myths and horror stories that I had picked up from pre-deployment training. They reacted exceptionally well, were well spaced out, and made excellent use of the minimal cover that was available. Their rate of fire was as I would expect from any British rifle company, and they certainly were not just ‘brassing up’ the area to their front as I feared they may do. The only observation would make would be an RPG gunner who fired off four RPGs with the safety pin fitted with outstanding accuracy, but to no avail. Fortunately WO2 Latta, from the Small Arms School Corps, was quickly on the scene to advise the gunner and ensure further engagements were successful.

The contact soon died down and the insurgents blended back into the Green Zone. We moved forward but were unable to confirm the success of the contact. For us however we had no casualties and were able to continue on with our mission.

The remainder of the Operation continued with no insurgent interference. Perhaps they were cautious after such a good reaction to the ambush. Either way we continued the joint operation, taking it in turns with D Company 2 PARA, to take the lead a point platoon.

Cracking on

Fusilier Stephen Johns

Fusilier Stephen Johns

Fusilier Johns is back at the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, after 2 weeks of leave. Training is underway again, this week with driving theory tests and live firing on the light machine gun.

Week 14 was the first one back after 2 weeks of leave. It was good to get a break, but people were glad to get back to crack on with training.

This week was driver theory training week. The guys who don’t have a driving licence went away and started learning to do the theory for the Cat B. As I and several others already had Cat B we started to practise for our Cat C theory. If we pass this then we have the chance to take the practical test at the end of training, depending on the amount of spaces on the course and what our battalions want us to do.

Quite a few of us passed the theory before Thursday so we spent the rest of the week doing administration. We cleaned and checked our weapons for faults and then we had the opportunity to work on our best books so they were up to a high standard. (These are where we keep all the notes we have taken over the course). It is useful as we have so much information thrown at us in a short space of time we use this to keep our knowledge and hold it for future reference.

Friday was live firing  on the light machine gun (LMG). This was out to 100m and it was to get us ready ahead of LMG camp next week. I really enjoyed firing the LMG and am looking forward to  the  camp.  We will be spending the whole week live firing and it should be really enjoyable.

We couldn’t see out to 100m!

Fusilier Stephen Johns

Fusilier Stephen Johns

Fusilier Stephen Johns writes once again from the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick about his latest experiences of Army basic training. It’s been a busy week – even with a foot injury!

 

Personally I didn’t do much this week. I injured my foot at home so have been going to the Medical and Physiotherapy centres. I’m trying to get fit again for week 12 when we have our 6 mile output test. I’m confident that I will be back by then although it may mean missing a good week of adventurous training next week.

My platoon this week started with another 5-mile loaded march. This was the second one at this distance and so people were more used to it and nobody struggled too much this time around. This puts the platoon in good standing for the output test on week 12.

We’ve had a lot of lessons this week,  focusing on Battlefield Casualty Drills (BCD), map reading and the light machine gun (LMG). The lessons have been going well. Our platoon staff have been teaching us well and the we are picking up the content quickly. Our map reading lessons are getting more advanced. We all passed our written progress test and have a practical map reading exercise next week during adventurous training. We have also had a written BCD test, which we haven’t had the results for but I am confident we have passed.

At ITC Catterick  the training staff are good, as they go through everything you need to know and they make sure everyone understands. They don’t shout and bawl at you if you don’t pick things up first time. They want you to learn and understand what is being taught.

We have also been on the ranges and also the DCCT. We are shooting out to 300m again, practising for the marksmanship test. On the range the weather was foggy so everyone had to wait a couple of hours for the shoot as we couldn’t see out to 100m!

This week was not as good as last week for shooting and not everyone passed. There were quite a few reshoots. Even on the DCCT we had people failing as the standards needed to pass have increased. We will definitely need the few days on the ranges in week 12 before our marksmanship test.

On Your Bike: Brigadier hits the road for charity

Brigadier Richard Dennis OBE ADC, the Army’s Director of Infantry, is currently touring Infantry Regimental Headquarters on his motorbike to personally thank soldiers before he leaves command. He’s raising money for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity in the process.

Brigadier Richard Dennis OBE ADC

Brigadier Richard Dennis OBE ADC

My visit to the Regimental Headquarters of The Yorkshire Regiment in York and The Royal Anglian Regiment in Bury St Edmunds yesterday was a real success. I identified how both Regimental Headquarters and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity are supporting our lads today.

In Yorkshire,  227 grants totalling  £160,806 have been made. For example, a 97-year old former WW2 Welsh Borderer, living in a sheltered flat in Bingley.  He suffers from arthritis in the lower back and legs and can no longer step in or out of his bath.  As a result he could only strip wash. ABF The Soldiers’ Charity made a grant of £1,250 towards the costs of a walk in shower for him.

In Suffolk, 57 grants totalling £42,501 have been made. For example, support was given to the family of a former Irish Guards Colour Sergeant whose 18-year old daughter suffered a severe stroke. She was unable to move anything except her eyes and was communicating through a special computerised system which followed her eye movements.  As she was in hospital in London and the family lived in Harwich, the costs of regular travel and the specialised equipment needed for her care, not all of which was available on the NHS, were causing concern.  The Regiment was organising fund raising events to assist and The Soldiers’ Charity had no hesitation in making a support grant for the family.

My trip is being made possible by the generosity of Triumph UK, who have supplied my motorbike. I hope to  increase people’s awareness of the vital role played by all Service charities and encourage them to donate to ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. If you wish to do so, please visit  http://www.justgiving.com/BikingBrigadier – thank you.