March 22, 2010

'It was like Zulu'

'It was like Zulu'
How British troops in Afghanistan fought to the point of exhaustion against the Taliban.
By Sean Rayment

It became known as “the battle of Crossing Point One”. In a series of suicidal attacks late last year, hard-core Taliban fighters tried to over-run an isolated British base on the northern tip of Nad e’Ali. Had the insurgents succeeded, the victory would have been a propaganda coup par excellence, and the British mission in central Helmand could have been seriously jeopardised.

For two gruelling weeks in the area of Luy Mandah, 30 soldiers fought a 360-degree battle with the Taliban in the most arduous conditions. The combat was often at close quarters where bayonets were fixed and hand grenades became the weapons of choice for the beleaguered British troops. By the battle’s end, every man in the platoon was credited with at least one Taliban kill.

The battle proper began on the night of November 4 last year, just a few hours after five members of the battlegroup in another part of the district were shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman. The troops’ morale had been dented three weeks earlier when a member of their company had been fatally wounded by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Such was the force of the blast that Guardsman Jamie Janes suffered a quadruple amputation. As the troops carried Janes’s shattered body back to their base, they were ambushed by Taliban. Scores needed to be settled.

The troops from 5 Platoon No 2 Company 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, commanded by Lieutenant Craig Shephard, 24, and Sergeant Dean Bailey, 36, decided to exploit the Taliban’s fondness for attacking wounded soldiers by constructing an ambush based on a fake IED strike. After the explosives were detonated, the Taliban – as expected – quickly appeared with a two-man Pakistani sniper team leading the way. As the British troops pulled back to the base, the Pakistanis were shot dead by hidden British snipers – both dispatched with head shots from 400 metres. When the Taliban pushed forward towards the base, they were cut down by raking machine-gun fire and Javelin missiles. After two hours of fighting, 10 Taliban lay dead.

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