Thursday, December 17, 2009
By Chris Hughes - Daily Mirror
Peace on earth seemed a million miles way away as we sheltered in a British forward base rocked by Taliban bombs.
Photographer Roger Allen and I had gone to Sangin as part of the Mirror’s Christmas Appeal.
And we were there when another two British names were added to Afghanistan’s mounting death toll.
Platoon Serjeant Tim Exley, 28, from Barnsley was telling me: “Nothing can make up for being away from your family at Christmas...”
Then Boom. Boom. Two deep explosions, very close together. He winces. “That didn’t sound good.”
Everyone in Forward Operating Base Jackson is almost impervious to the usual explosions and gunfire.
They’re as familiar as the noise of roadworks and traffic back home.
Serjeant Exley, of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, knows the Taliban’s deadly improvised explosive devices can be deliberately set off by vehicles designed to clear a path through bomb-littered roads.
But two blasts so close together sounds bad.
He frowns and says: “Our guys are out there right now on operation.”
A soldier comes out of the operations room and signals to a nearby Serjeant who jogs calmly into a building.
A minute later troops with rifles, light machine guns and belts of ammunition are jumping into Jackal vehicles. The Quick Reaction Force is being sent to reinforce soldiers on the ground.
They know fellow riflemen out there, outside the wire and concrete and sandbags, battling away, possibly dying, after setting off on a pre-dawn assault.
News of the Brit deaths spread fast. Some men cursed, others just shook their heads in mute resignation.
It brings to 102 the number killed in the bloody conflict this year.
The soldiers were on a joint operation with Afghan forces when two suicide bombers on motorbikes smashed into them. Two Afghan soldiers also died.
Now two US Black Hawk helicopters are lumbering over the base.
One lands and medics lift off casualties from the attack.
Then the ugly-looking craft soars back into the air, a gunner’s feet dangling from the side as it screams back towards the battle.
Above the base a British Apache helicopter hangs menacingly 1,500 feet up, guarding the arrival of a huge twin-rotor Chinook which swoops low over the hills, zig-zagging to avoid missiles.
This is the emergency response team called in to help get out the dead and wounded. On board are the two Afghan soldiers, killed by their own countrymen in a pitiless war that knows no limits.
This muddy hell-hole has been home to the 3rd Battalion the Rifles for three months and they are now in the thick of a “busy” Christmas of fighting.
Soldiers from Six Platoon, B Company are just back from Patrol Base Mahboob, a tiny fortress they built and defended for weeks, surrounded by insurgents.
For the rest of the report click here for the Mirror website