Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Colour Sergeant Mike Saunders, 2 MERCIAN, blogs from Helmand - Part 7

A WORCESTER soldier fighting in Afghanistan is proving to be a big hit with punters after he started sending blogs from the frontline back to his local pub.

Helmandblog first reported on the story on the 19 April and many readers asked where they could find the blog. After his sister Tracey posted a comment on Helmandblog I asked if she would let me have the updates - and she said yes. So as they come in I will keep you up to date.

Greetings friends and readers at the Marwood, Worcester!

So far you have heard much of the travel and strife it takes just to get to this country, we have covered the general history of the conflict and how we got to be here. What we have not covered is the other darker part and perhaps the only major part that we cannot control and that is our enemy.

Dismiss from your head the brave Mujahedeen or “holy warriors”, riding bravely in to battle on horseback, if they ever did exist they have been replaced by a ruthless cunning enemy more than capable and willing to use torture, intimidation and terror tactics and that is just on their own people.

In the main the higher levels or “full time enemy” have been raised and converted to an ideal that is as fanatical as it is dangerous. These high level operators are often the means by which the disaffected or poor are converted or paid to carry out attacks against our forces. It is sadly often the case that those who are on the front line are those who have little other recourse in life and even more sadly for some death may be the only escape from a life spent serving a pitiless master.

That said on there is no shortage of home grown enemies more than willing to test the resolve of the “foreign invaders” these individuals will exploit any perceived weakness or opportunity and will attack with impunity regardless of any risk of collateral damage.

Fundamentally opposed to any influence from the western world the insurgent force use guerrilla attack strategies to inflict as many casualties on the coalition forces as possible and will use the innocent local populace to do this. Often the enemy will initiate an attack and before they can be pinned down and dealt with they will drop any weapons and melt back into the crowd thus evading justice for their actions.

In our own dealings with the enemy in most cases we are the very opposite, we plan our deliberate operations with the greatest concern for innocent human life and our use of force is proportionate to the situation faced.

The way in which we engage with our enemy is of no surprise, history has shown us that a numerically superior force with overwhelming advantage of technology and sheer firepower will always force an enemy to ground and make him use guerrilla tactics. In a matter of minutes an individual insurgent can find himself under bombardment from an array of weapons hitherto unseen on any field of conflict.

Often I struggle to understand how we cannot find the cure for basic illnesses yet a man can sit in a different country “flying” an unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle passing real time information to other machines that will engage the target in real time!

The fact that the enemy is outgunned does not dissuade the insurgents from attacking us, quite the opposite in fact. The end result is the enemy attacks us is two different ways, Firstly is the traditional force on force engagement where he will set up an ambush of sorts, waiting until a friendly forces patrol turns up and then attack very briefly but with all the force he can muster.

Secondly and more devastating he will employ various improvised explosive devices (IED’s) to attack us often without the need to be present and thus not risk death or capture. Improvised explosive devices are now a constant reality of life here and for the enemy they potentially fulfil a number of criteria.

Firstly when executed correctly the result as painfully evident from the news is fatal but the effects go beyond this. The proliferation of IED’s creates unavoidable fear for both friendly forces and the local populace and they can have the effect of restricting movement.

The use of IED’s is a classic guerrilla tactic, it is relatively cheap and easy to deploy and is much less manpower intensive. In addition the indigenous Afghan is a master of invention and improvisation as can be witnessed if you ever see an Afghan repairing anything from a sewing machine to a car.

For our part we are able to combat the majority of this threat, in the main through good training and preparation and as a response we use the traditional type of engagement to test the enemies resolve in open combat. In summary we have an enemy that has been forced into a corner by sheer combat power and the application of military discipline and who has had to resort to other methods to try and stem the flow of his losses.

Another unavoidable truth of battle is that despite all the technology, the bombs, missiles and aircraft, it is the Infantryman with the sharp point of his bayonet that is the only true way to capture and hold ground. This is why we, your soldiers of the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment have deployed and that is why many of my colleagues find themselves exposed to the realities of conflict up close and personal on a daily basis.

For myself I live in relative comfort only miles from those for whom the words sacrifice, combat and true courage are not abstract concepts but rather the only way to survive in what sometimes can be a harsh, unforgiving land. Despite being here so close to those of whom I speak my thoughts go out to those who sit in the dark looking out across disputed territory knowing that somewhere close men are plotting their demise.

In the next instalment I will begin to relate some of the realities of combat here and will use examples from this tour and our previous tour to show you the sacrifices YOUR soldiers are making on your behalf.

Until the stay safe and be good to one another.

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