Monday, October 12, 2009
One hundred elite British soldiers beat off the Taliban in one of the most ferocious firefights of the Afghan war - and ALL survived.
Our exclusive pictures show the hand-picked reconnaissance force troops in action after they were trapped in an ambush deep in hostile territory.
Heavy casualties seemed inevitable as insurgents opened up with rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns and automatic rifles from hidden positions just 200 yards away.
But the brave squaddies - some of the toughest and heaviest armed in the Army - coolly blasted back with 40mm explosive shells and .50 calibre machine-guns.
The battle blazed on through the night and the Taliban launched a fresh four-hour onslaught with reinforcements after dawn. But they finally accepted they were outclassed and fled.
An Army spokesman said: "They chose the wrong unit to pick a fight with, there is no doubt about that."
The ambush came as 19 Light Brigade's Reconnaissance Force were returning to their Camp Bastion base after Operation Panther's Valour to drive the Taliban out of an area of Helmand.
The force - simply known as the BRF - is made up of crack troops chosen mainly from the brigade's infantry units. Their convoy was blocked when a two-kilo landmine blew a wheel off the leading Mastiff truck at Nad-e-Ali.
The 24-tonne vehicle's armour meant the crew - including Lieut Alex Wilson, 29, from Berkshire and Private Billy Eden, 22, of Grimsby, Lincs - escaped with scratches.
But within seconds the Taliban opened fire on the convoy's other Mastiff and 26 Jackal fighting vehicles. Lance Corporal Ryan "Kingy" King shouted a warning: "Get ready, here it comes" just as a rocket-propelled grenade blasted the convoy.
One soldier said: "Commanders were yelling at us to dismount. Then we heard a whoosh as the RPG round came in.
"There was a cloud of black smoke as it exploded close to one of the Jackals." The Taliban then opened fire with a heavy machine-gun. But the BRF set up a defensive cordon around their stranded trucks and returned fire on the Taliban's five positions. After dusk, red and green tracers lit the sky as the battle raged.
But the ambushers eventually stopped firing and carried away their casualties under cover of darkness.
Private Ben Ansaldo said: "The biggest danger was firing on our own side if the insurgents infiltrated our positions. But they had taken quite a smashing and probably wanted to get their heads down for the night, like us." The Taliban struck again in the morning, boosted by reinforcements brought in overnight.
The Army spokesman said: "The BRF were the target of a wellplanned and executed attack by a disciplined and determined enemy.
"Despite the heat and tough conditions the soldiers not only held out but killed at least one insurgent and captured another with a large cache of weapons. A determined Taliban ambush was beaten and the BRF cemented its reputation as a formidable force."
After the battle in August the damaged Mastiff was recovered and the convoy returned safely to Camp Bastion.
Captain Euan Grant, BRF operations officer, said: "The lads are always up for it, always ready to act in the most difficult circumstances.
"They have done a sterling job, taking the fight to the insurgents."