Sunday, February 28, 2010

Death and swift revenge on Operation Dark Rest

Miles Amoore in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand for the Times Online

THE patrol set off in darkness. Through fields of poppy and wheat, 100 men from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force stumbled towards their target, a strip of compounds that had been used by the Taliban to fire on British troops.

“Right, lads, the Taliban are waking up. They’ve already pinged our position,” said Captain Andy Breach, the BRF’s intelligence officer, as he listened in to the insurgents’ radio under a moonless sky.

Then the mine exploded. With an enormous, ear-piercing bang, a cone of earth and rock hurtled towards the heavens 40 yards in front of me in a flash of purple from the phosphate in the home-made improvised explosive device.

“Contact IED!” Breach shouted into his radio.

An eerie pause followed as a plume of smoke spiralled away on the breeze above the dirt and gravel track we were following beside a canal. One of the soldiers shouted for a medic. As men raced past me, barking out orders in rasping voices, I sat on a bank in shock, an image of the explosion frozen in my mind.

“Foxy, get your vallon [mine detector],” said Colour Sergeant Stew Cain, grabbing the nearest medic and running towards the seat of the explosion. “Start clearing the area in case there are more devices.”

But Foxy never replied. In the gloomy, pre-dawn light, a group of soldiers found him on the track. They dragged him on to a stretcher, each man taking a corner, and sprinted towards a landing zone being cleared for a helicopter in a wheat field.

Breach, co-ordinating the medical evacuation from a ditch 10 yards away, asked for news of Foxy’s condition. Cain looked back at him and shook his head twice.

Sergeant Paul “Foxy” Fox, 35, from Manchester, married with three children — the youngest barely more than a year old — had died instantly.

I HAD known Foxy for only a month, but I fought back tears as I watched the two men stare at each other across the field, shocked by the loss of a friend.

A few minutes earlier, Foxy had been walking six men ahead of me, talking into his radio as he navigated the irrigation ditches and tree-lines, the rest of the platoon following.

This was Operation Dark Rest, aimed at killing or capturing a particularly lethal group of Taliban near the town of Marjah in central Helmand.

The soldiers of the BRF, an elite unit, had just had time to de-flea their sleeping bags after 10 days of living rough in compounds following the launch of the much larger Operation Moshtarak to regain control of the area.

Thus far they had seen relatively little fighting. Now they were targeting “a nest of vipers” who had shot and wounded six men from US special forces and seven Scots Guards in the space of a week.

The accuracy of the fire suggested that highly trained Pakistani gunmen may have arrived there from Marjah, where US troops have become bogged down in fierce fighting.

“We will likely take on casualties,” the commanding officer had said on the eve of Operation Dark Rest. “We may have to have down days, where we recoup for a day or two. We will need to stay alert. They only need to be lucky once; we have to be lucky every day.”

On Friday, the men woke at 3.45am, packing up their sleeping bags and ponchos before making a hasty cup of tea and gobbling some food. They lined up in their sections, sharing a final joke before they set out.

Foxy checked over the men in his section, ensuring they were in the correct order of march and that they had the right kit with them — night vision goggles, enough water to last the day, extra rations and ammunition. I was attached to 3 Platoon, where Foxy was one of three section commanders.

It was hard to see the ground with no moon to guide us. Some of the soldiers tripped in the uneven fields. Others lost their footing as they hurdled ditches, slipping into the water before scrambling up the bank.

For the full report click here for the Times online


  1. I'm an American and I just wanted to say thanks for helping us fight terrorism and for the safety of Afghanistan. Foxy and others like him will be missed. Stay safe out there.

  2. God bless you all and keep you safe. You have my deep gratitude. I am praying for this brave soldier's family, and all his fellow soldiers. I'm so sorry.

    Maggie Goff
    Bisbee, Arizona, USA

  3. You blog is gets a real sense of what it must be like to fight in this war......the fear, the homesickness, the comraderie, etc. My heart and prayers go out to Sgt. Fox's friends and family.