Platoon, A Company,
2 Rifles in Sangin speak about the horror of the attack that
killed three comrades
The Times Online
August 18, 2009
Tears on the front line: battle-weary forces tell of fatal
As the dust cleared around them, revealing the terribly injured body of
one of their
comrades, the fusiliers knew that the horror might have only just begun.
Three of their number had died on Thursday in the same green zone south
killed by a secondary device that exploded among soldiers trying to rescue
from the first blast.
Shortly after first light on Sunday, the same was about to happen again,
killing three more
British soldiers and taking the death toll to 204.
As the troops of 3 Platoon, A Company, 2 Rifles battlegroup carried their
reeds on the bank of the Helmand River towards ground that was clear enough
for a medical
helicopter to land upon, another blast ripped through them.
I was blown on to my backside, said Sergeant-Major Pete Burney.
I thought, Thats me
then but as I picked myself up I saw I hadnt a scratch. Then
I realised we were among a
belt of IEDs [improvised explosive devices].
To his right he could see a medic, a woman who seconds earlier had been
resuscitate the first casualty, but who had been blown past him and lay
wounded on the
ground. Another fusilier and a Royal Military Police corporal were injured.
A fusilier lay
dead among more IEDs.
Sangin has become synonymous with the Talebans weapon of choice.
The town once
notorious for the gun battles between British soldiers and the Taleban
is now the focus of an
intensive bombing campaign by the insurgents before this weeks elections
2 Rifles has suffered more casualties over the 4_ months of its tour than
any British unit
serving in Helmand. Twenty soldiers have been killed from the mixed unit
of riflemen and
fusiliers, including six in the past week. The number of wounded, a figure
that cannot be
disclosed for security reasons, ranks alongside that suffered by British
infantry units during
fighting in Europe in the Second World War.
The bombs activated by a soldiers foot, a command wire, or
radio wave are
multiplying in number and sophistication, swamping the best efforts of
and explosives experts. A total of 303 bombs have been found by the battlegroup
tour began on April 10, up from the 283 found during the previous units
deployment. During one operation troops came across 30 in a day.
The enemy intent is clear: to block us in with a series of defensive
IED belts which stop us
from engaging with the local population, said Major Karl Hickman,
commanding officer, who has lost ten soldiers to the bombers.
A number of triple amputations have been among the casualties. There have
escapes too. Corporal Ryan Hone, 23, a section commander in 2 Platoon,
2 Rifles, has been
blown up or over four times by IEDS. Ive still got five lives
left, he said yesterday. Of
course it worries us all a bit but Ive got to show the lads weve
got a job to do.
Sometimes the soldiers rely on the naked eye to spot the bombs, while
at other times
intuition plays a factor in survival. Fijian troops serving in the battlegroup
have an uncanny
reputation for anticipating bombs by spotting discrepancies in the behaviour
More often, the troops rely on the front man of the platoon, equipped
with a metal detector.
The courage of the guy at the front is unbelievable, said
Lieutenant Alan Williamson, 26,
3 Platoons commander. They know that if they miss something
its either them or their
friends. The pressure on them is incredible.
So it was with foreboding that Sergeant-Major Burney saw a party of Royal
specialists clearing a route towards him and his wounded and dead soldiers
When I saw them appear it was like the cavalry arriving, he
said, but then I realised that
wed only moved around a few feet and already been blown up twice,
so I was worried that
the same thing was going to happen again.
Indeed, as he concentrated on treating one of his wounded soldiers, one
of the first things
the Royal Engineer team discovered as they arrived on the scene was another
bomb a metre
behind the sergeant-major, one of six at the site.
The soldiers eventually recovered all their casualties (one of whom hobbled
out on two
broken ankles to save the effort of being stretchered), evacuating the
dead and wounded by
helicopter before returning to their base in Sangin on foot. Little over
three hours had passed
since the first bomb had exploded.
The survivors were among those who conducted a memorial service that afternoon
three dead and a fourth soldier from the battlegroup who was killed by
a bomb the previous
evening. It was a brief and moving affair, held on the dust of a landing
strip inside Sangins
fortified walls. There were not a few tears.
The soldiers here are now familiar with the process of grieving. When
possible, a small
group of them are flown to Camp Bastion to say goodbye to their dead,
attending the ramp
ceremonies for the bodies flown back to Britain. Those remaining in Sangin
hold their own
service, then write eulogies for their dead friends, before sorting out
their personal effects,
which are also flown home.
The new form of warfare may be one of massive strain and heavy casualties,
Company has never had a soldier who has refused to go out on an operation,
nor one who
has claimed to be too traumatised to continue.
If theyre shooting at you, then you can do something,
said the sergeant- major. But
walking along, not knowing what each step may bring . . . Weve got
18-year-olds out here
seeing things they never should. Horrific injuries. Weve had a continuous
process of death
or serious injury. Now grief is a process that they deal with much better
than at the
beginning of the tour. And it hasnt stopped us. The riflemen still
His company commander, Major Hickman, was as succinct. Ive
got 18-year-olds who six
weeks after coming here are different people, he said. To
take three fatalities, then another
three, is a tough thing for the guys to understand. But we have to carry
on doing it because
if we dont, then the Taleban will push even closer. We have to carry
on so that this
sacrifice isnt in vain, and because it is expected of us by the
population of Afghanistan and
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