Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The crack of a gunshot met the patrol yards after we exited the gates of the base in the heart of Taliban territory.
By Thomas Harding in Rahim Kalay. Daily Telegraph
Seconds later there were shouts of “casualty”. As the Afghan soldier hissed in pain through clenched teeth, bandages were wrapped tightly around the wounds from a bullet that had gone through both legs.
On this occasion he was shot by a machine-gunner from his own section who had just cocked his weapon.
As a stretcher arrived, 2nd Lieut Olly Morley ordered the patrol to continue without the section of the Afghan National Army, which would mean fewer troops on the ground.
The Coldstream Guards, who are in a well-defended base in the Babaji district, are pressing on with their mission despite news of the 100th British death this year.
“Everyone here knows of the risks because every time we go out there’s a danger, but we have a commitment to get on with the job,” said 2nd Lieut Morley, 24, who graduated from Sandhurst six months ago. “Of course morale is affected by casualties but we soon get back up on our feet and carry on.”
He spoke while we crouched behind a mud-brick wall overlooking the village of Rahim Kalay, from which an estimated 50 full-time Taliban launch almost daily attacks against the base.
Apache attack helicopters appeared overhead accompanying the Blackhawk medical helicopter, which swept in low to land at the base. A few minutes later intelligence came in that eight insurgents had entered a building 500 yards away, apparently to prepare for an attack on troops providing protection for a bomb disposal team. “If it does get hot then we have got Irene up here to smash them,” said L/Sgt Will Pates, 28, the section commander, referring to their general purpose machine gun.
The Coldstreamers’ faces tensed again when a report came in that “all the enemy had moved into position”.
“If it does kick off we will go for immediate action,” said an aircraft controller referring to the French Mirage bomber that had arrived overhead and seemed to take the fight out of the Taliban.
A few hours later we heard the distinct boom of an improvised explosive device, and news came in that an Afghan policeman had been killed.
There is incremental progress being made in the Babaji area but it is coming at a cost to the Afghans and the British.