Friday, October 2, 2009
Young soldier speaks of intense Taliban battle
Pic: Private Declan Walton during a training session at Camp Bastion, Helmand province
A recently-recruited Scottish soldier has spoken of his role in an intense contact with the Taliban in Babaji district, Helmand, during which two colleagues from his company tragically lost their lives.
Private Declan Walton, aged 18, a rifleman in 2 Platoon, Alpha (Grenadier) Company, had not long completed his basic training when his unit deployed to Afghanistan with The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS) Battle Group.
During an operation when his platoon had been tasked to set up a defensive screen to provide the Royal Engineers and Welsh Guards with protection as they closed an old checkpoint and crossing point on the Shamalan Canal, Pte Walton found himself in the middle of an intense battle with the Taliban.
The operation began on 30 August 2009 when, under cover of darkness, 3 SCOTS had moved into the enemy-held area and settled in among the compounds which would provide them with protected firing positions at dawn. Pte Walton explained:
"We'd been told to expect a robust enemy, but it was soon clear there were lots of them and they were very well organised, as well making it difficult to identify where they all were."
Pte Walton was one of the first on the roof to return fire when the Taliban launched their attack:
"I had just taken over sentry duty when a rocket-propelled grenade [RPG] was fired at a neighbouring compound. I was looking for where it had come from when an enemy fighter stepped out from a compound 250m away and fired another one at us," said Pte Walton.
"It all happened so quickly, but we were soon sending machine gun rounds back in his direction."
The tough training Pte Walton had completed to join his platoon on tour soon paid dividends:
"We have a good understanding of their tactics and, having found them, we quickly regained the initiative," he said. "Once we had returned accurate fire to keep their heads down, we were able to call in mortars to destroy their positions."
Two members of Alpha Company, Sergeant Stuart Millar and Pte Kevin Elliot, were killed in the first RPG attack, but with steadfast courage Pte Walton and his comrades continued the job in hand:
"It was a real shock, but you just have to focus on what needs doing," said Pte Walton. "Unfortunately it is a reality of what we do here."
"We killed a lot of Taliban fighters in those two days, but it doesn't change the fact we lost two good soldiers too."
After the checkpoint was closed and the bridge successfully blown, the Scottish troops were lifted by Chinooks back to Kandahar Airfield for a few days' rest and preparation for their next operation.
Speaking from Camp Roberts in Kandahar Airfield, Pte Walton said he was relieved to be back but admitted that he was 'still buzzing with excitement':
"It's good to have a chance to pause and reflect on what's happened and say your goodbyes," he said, "but I'm looking forward to getting back out there."