Monday, February 15, 2010

Frontline Blog by WO2 Sean Semple Royal Engineers

The Mirror


Every day Warrant Officer Class 2 Sean Semple, 38, will write from the front line for the Mirror. The Edinburgh-born dadof-two war veteran is with the engineers as they blast their way into enemy territory, tackling deadly Taliban IEDs. Within hours of Op Moshtarak starting he sent this diary entry.

He's smack on the frontline of Operation Moshtarak - with the Engineers - and currently in the fallen Taliban town of Shawal - where the Taliban flag was lowered on Saturday.

In his "troops eye" of what's happening out there what Sean, 38, a married father-of-two and veteran of Northern Ireland and Iraq, says on day one:

Blog day 1: By WO2 Sean Semple INTO TALIBAN HEARTLAND

We're off. We've got the nod from the CO that Op Moshtarak is finally happening. I can tell you the lads are relieved. We've been planning this for a long time. And the sooner we start, the sooner we finish.

The younger guys - those who've never heard an eve of battle address - are excited. The older ones amongst us, we're more pensive. We've been here before.

It's not fear of death - to be perfectly honest, I have total confidence in the vehicles - it's the unknown. You're prepared, but you don't know what to expect.

As we climbed into our Vikings and Engineer vehicles we heard the helicopters go in. In my mind, I wish the guys well.

"We left in the dark, but as our convoy rolled out you could feel the ground shuddering as we left. As sunlight broke over the desert the scale of convoy took my breathe away, nearly a mile long - that's the stuff that gives you confidence to deal with what's in front of you.

We stopped on the edge of the green zone - that's the fertile, agricultural bit of Helmand province where the enemy does most of their fighting. We prepare our leaguer - 24 Vikings APCs arranged in a square like a metal fortress, with the Engineer's kit in the middle.

After lunch, I'm in a column that moves into Showal, the self-proclaimed 'capital' of the Taliban. It was a long, tense day - the enemy didn't stick around, they were running. We didn't see them. But we saw their IEDs.

At 2pm, we made a little bit of military history. We tried out a new piece of kit - the plough on the front of the Trojan - a converted Challenger 2.

The Trojan has other great bits on it too, including a rocket that fires a hose of a tonne and a half of high explosives to clear minefields. We didn't use that today, but we may do soon.

Plough leading, we drove down the middle of the wadi - dry river bed - punching through the IED belt.

The Engineers love their kit and they were in seventh heaven. Especially the CO, Lt Col Matt Bazeley. He's the guy who has been making sure this new stuff has got to theatre, and making sure it works. All credit to him. This stuff is going to save lives.

"And Showal? It was a ramshackle shanty town. How that can be the heart of anyone's world was beyond me. An eerie, empty place. All you could see was debris, open doorways, like something out of a spaghetti Western.

"We walked only in the ground cleared by our plough and our Barma teams - those are the guys who risk life and limb day in day out to check the ground for IEDs.

As I look around at the desolate town, I saw, dead in front of me, a command wire. It caught my attention big style. No matter how many times people tell you about IEDS, when you see one yourself, it makes you think.

We found a couple of locals who hadn't fled. They told us; don't go past the two tyres laid on the road. It marks the line of safety: anything beyond may have IEDS under foot. Nasty cowards, the Taliban, I thought. They run away, but seeded their own town with mines.

After dark, we returned to the leaguer. We're out in the middle of nowhere - can't say exactly where - and surrounded by potential enemy, but you feel secure inside. Sentries cover all the angles.

We're all tired, it's been a long day. Now, it's no white light, minimal noise, heads down

I climb into my sleeping bag, helmet and body armour next to me just in case.

Job done. Let's see what tomorrow brings.


  1. And where have the Taliban gone ?
    Somewhere ISAF forces are depleted due to this operation.
    Sangin perhaps ?