Posts Tagged ‘British army’
By David Leppard and Miles Amoore
THE SAS made a daring night-time march across the mountains in Afghanistan in a “breathtaking” operation to free the British aid worker Helen Johnston and three other hostages, David Cameron revealed yesterday.
Johnston, a 28-year old nutritionist who lived in Stoke Newington, north London, while studying at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was rescued unharmed with her three colleagues. More than 10 of the heavily armed kidnappers were killed just after midnight yesterday.
The SAS opted for what Cameron called their “long route march at night” because they did not want to tip off the hostage-takers by arriving in a helicopter. A helicopter raid to rescue another British aid worker, Linda Norgrove, in 2010 went badly wrong. Norgrove was killed by a grenade thrown by a an American Navy Seal during a battle with her captors.
Yesterday’s operation was authorised by the prime minister late on Friday afternoon after he was told by military leaders that the hostage-takers had split into two groups and there was an increased threat to their captives’ lives.
In a significant toughening of the government’s stance towards those who kidnap Britons, Cameron said the outcome served as a warning that such groups could expect “a swift and brutal end”.
Speaking outside Downing Street, he praised the courage of the strike force of about 30 SAS troops who carried out the rescue: “It was an extraordinarily brave, breathtaking even, operation that our troops had to carry out. I pay tribute to their skill and dedication.” Read the rest of this entry »
The British Army’s forward operating base at Wishtan — known as the Devil’s Playground because of the high number of casualties suffered there — is one of those abandoned by US marines. At the height of the Taliban’s onslaught, the British saw a man killed or wounded on one in every three patrols into the surrounding maze of alleyways.
It was in Wishtan that a “daisy chain” of IEDs killed five riflemen from the 2nd Battalion the Rifles last year — the highest loss of life for the British Army in a single incident since the war began.
My younger brother Jim, a second lieutenant, was also wounded on his way to replace the injured platoon commander.
Three months later, I walked along Pharmacy Road, which was described as the most hazardous route on earth because so many people had died clearing it.
The road is now littered with IEDs again and the British men who fought in Wishtan are wondering whether the loss of friends and comrades was futile.
“Success has to be measured in small units — opening up the bazaar, being able to walk down Pharmacy Road,” said a British veteran. “We sacrificed a lot of men on that road to keep that base open.”
The platoon was only 200 yards from its base when Lieutenant Robert Kelly, the 29-year-old son of a US Marine Corps general, hauled himself out of an irrigation ditch and on to a Taliban mine buried in the mud bank.
The force of the blast hurled him back into the ditch, slicing off both his legs above the knees. The men nearest the explosion — Corporal Travis Buckholz and Corporal Vatividad Silva — grabbed his body armour and dragged him out of the water.
Buckholz, 21, pulled out a tourniquet to stem the blood and rolled his commanding officer over. But when he saw the lieutenant’s face he stopped still with the tourniquet clenched in his hand.
“I knew when I saw it there was nothing we could do for him. Half his face was missing,” Buckholz said.
“When we got back to base it was like someone had stolen the life out of everyone. All you could see were pale faces and blank looks. I sat on the stairs and fixed my eyes on one spot for hours.”
Death has become an all too frequent reality for American marines fighting in the Sangin district of Helmand, just as it was for British forces before them. The British suffered a third of all their Afghan war casualties in this valley labyrinth of canals, tree-lines and fields of opium and corn.
When the men of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines arrived their commanders could not understand how the British had failed to pacify Sangin, where inter-tribal feuds, the opium trade and a vicious insurgency have combined to make the district the most dangerous for Nato troops in Afghanistan.
The British strategy was privately criticised. The Americans believed an undermanned British force had become hamstrung by the large number of patrol bases they were maintaining in a ring around the centre of the district.
No sooner had they assumed command at the start of October than they began to tear down more than half of the 22 bases that 106 British soldiers had died defending. Hundreds more were wounded, many so severely that their lives would never be the same again. The Americans abandoned some of the terrain that the British had clung to at grave cost and directed their extra manpower at other areas that had not been penetrated before.
But the marines are already paying a devastating price for this early aggression. Read the rest of this entry »
Detectives are investigating a suspected heroin trafficking ring among British soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
The inquiry centres on British and Canadian troops based at Camp Bastion and Kandahar, the two main airports ferrying military personnel in and out of the country. Army chiefs are so concerned that they have ordered an increase in checks on troops returning from frontline duties.
This includes greater use of sniffer dogs, body and luggage searches and other covert monitoring at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, the military airport from which up to 700 troops return each week.
The checks are so extensive that the Ministry of Defence this weekend issued an apology to its personnel for the inconvenience being caused. However, it also threatened that any troops found to be caught up in the trade would be subjected to the full rigours of criminal law. Read the rest of this entry »
The killing of three British soldiers by an Afghan comrade last week has intensified Nato concern that Taliban fighters may be infiltrating Afghanistan’s army in growing numbers.
An Afghan sergeant shot dead a sleeping British officer and launched a rocket-propelled grenade that killed two other soldiers. British and Afghan military intelligence searching for the gunman suspect he may have been trained in Iran.
“Of course we’re worried about infiltration,” said an American colonel who works closely with the Afghan National Army (ANA). “The signs are that it is on the increase too. This is a big problem for us but there is little we can do.”
Nato’s eventual exit from the conflict relies heavily on the ability of the Afghan army to take responsibility for security. News of Taliban infiltration casts further doubts on the effectiveness of the Afghan force.
“Partnering with the Afghans is key to our success in this mission,” said Major-General Nick Carter, the commander of Nato troops in southern Afghanistan. “This [the murders] is damaging to the relationship we have with the Afghans. They are absolutely gutted by this.”
Carter said his opposite number in the ANA, Maj-Gen Sher Mohammad Zazi, had warned his subordinates to “look closely” at new recruits to see if any of them “behave in a strange way or act in an unusual fashion”. Read the rest of this entry »