Read Spoken from the Front Online

Authors: Andy McNab

Spoken from the Front (25 page)

There are TICs [troops in contact] every day. Just as I
arrived, our troops were firing mortars onto suspected
enemy positions. But I am calm now and not as worried
as I thought I would be. Even on the flight down from
Bastion I was fine although I knew I'd be getting off the heli
in one of the most dangerous places in the world ...

I'm really looking forward to this. In a few days, we'll be
patrolling and operating, which is an exciting prospect.
We're sure to see some action. I don't want to sound flippant
or macho but that is what I'm here for, and I know my
lads feel the same. It's the pinnacle of soldiering and it
beats sitting in an office. I wonder how I'll feel in a few
months' time.

May 2007

Warrant Officer Class 2 Pete Lewis, The Mercian
Regiment

Warrant Officer Class 2 Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant
(RQMS) Pete Lewis, 2 Battalion The Mercian Regiment, is forty.
He was born and brought up in Nottingham, the son of a factory
engineer. He had two sisters, but one died during his 2007 tour.
Lewis left school at sixteen and worked for the next five years as
a bricklayer. He joined the Army in October 1990 and has served
for nearly two decades in the Mercians. During that time, he has
been on four tours of Northern Ireland, two of Bosnia and two of
Afghanistan. He is married with three children, and is based at
the Mercians' barracks outside Belfast.

Before we arrived [in Afghanistan], it was a constant worry
for me how our men would react. How would they react last
thing at night before going to bed and first thing in the morning?
But from day one, as soon as we were out there, every
man in the company was awesome.

You hear of people refusing to go back on the ground once
they have been in heavy contact. We had none of that. We
were lucky in the respect that we were a floating company.
We spent about ten days in [Camp] Bastion acclimatizing,
and then we went to Sangin for two months. I was a company
sergeant major in Grenadier Company. I would say I was a
dad to the company, some of whom were only eighteen years
old. I am the senior soldier. There's not a lot that happens in
the company that doesn't come through me in one way or
another.

There were anything from 90 to 120 men in our company.
My job is about discipline. The sergeant major has got to
work closely with the OC. If they don't get on, then the
company doesn't function. I was lucky: I had two OCs on the
tour and they were both very, very good. They were very
soldier-oriented. And because we spent those large periods
of time out on the ground, it was a case of hardships shared.
The blokes were eating rations; we were eating rations.
The blokes were shitting in oil drums; we were shitting in oil
drums. The blokes were burning the shit; we were burning
the shit. The blokes were in contact; we were in contact. So the
cohesion of the company just grew and grew and grew all
the way through the tour.

Sangin was relatively quiet. We had perhaps five or six
contacts within those first two months. The only casualty we
had was an Afghan interpreter, who got shot through the
femur. That was after a thirty-eight-hour push-out. We were
coming back into the DC [base] at Sangin. It was around 1400
hours so it was pretty warm. We had a heat casualty on the
way back in. I was on foot for this op so a quad bike came out
and picked him up, which fixed us on the ground for about
thirty minutes. In hindsight, this enabled them [the Taliban]
to put the ambush in on us. Because we had gone static, they
could predict our movements. It was only two and half K
back to base and they picked their spot.

They opened up from across a canal with heavy machinegun.
Luckily, we were within the arcs of the DC tower so
they had their heavy weapons, which opened straight up.
Compared to some of the contacts the boys were in, that was
short, only fifteen or twenty minutes. We gave the casualty first
aid, then extracted him back on foot with a casevac team. He
was picked up in a Chinook. The interpreter was twenty-four
or -five and he had worked with us for the first month and a
half.

The first confirmed kill we got was at a village near Sangin.
We got a Taliban who was quite high up in that district. The
boys had gone in to clear a compound and this guy came
running out. He had a weapon and he was shot.

Looking back, the only plus about Sangin was that it had a
canal running through the base so it was a respite for the boys
every day to jump in and cool off.

I think Sangin was a massive reality check for the blokes,
me as well. I had never lived on rations for more than three
weeks. But we were on rations for two months solid. When
we went into Sangin, all our water came out of the rivers from
the Royal Engineers' Life Support [and was treated] so it
tasted of chlorine. But Sangin was a good staging point for
the boys. It got their battle fitness up and it got them used
to the heat.

13 May 2007 [diary]

Captain Adam Chapman, The Mercian Regiment

Despite getting up at 02.20, I had a really good day, and saw
my first real bit of action, although not personally involved. I
went up onto JTAC Hill to watch the other platoon's mission
unfold. At first light they hit a compound with several antitank
rockets and lots of machine-gun fire. The plan was then
to extract to ambush positions and wait for the enemy. They
engaged an enemy, with covering indirect fire support. I was
in a position to watch as the 81mm mortar and 105mm shells
whistled over my head and impacted a few hundred metres
ahead. Very impressive to watch and the noise was
phenomenal! Any enemy on the receiving end would have
been pulverized (but I am dubious). The platoon commander
is a Grenadier Guard called Andy. He is a really nice bloke
and very professional and capable.

I then drove over to FOB Dwyer to pick up the rest of the
troop. Dwyer is where the big 105mm guns are located and is
basically a shit-hole in the middle of the desert. It's a pain to
drive there but there is no heli landing site at Delhi and I
doubt the pilots would want to land there anyway. The lads
are in good spirits but some are a little apprehensive. After
all, Garmsir is supposedly one of the worst places to be. To be
honest, I think it has been built up a little and is not as bad as
many make out.

I then went out on a foot patrol in the blistering heat of the
afternoon but it was very useful to see the ground. We
patrolled through Garmsir centre, which was once busy but is
now nothing more than a ghost town, very eerie, almost
looked like a Wild West town. The only people we saw were
the Afghan National Police, who were too zonked out on
drugs to care much!

15 May

We conducted our first patrol last night and it was a relatively
successful operation. Purely in the fact that everyone came
back safe and that will always be the main thing. I honestly
believe that had we encountered the enemy there would have
been problems. Luckily we didn't. There was a large contact
at JTAC Hill before we left. You could actually see tracer
rounds going over our heads in camp and hear the zip of
bullets as they flew overhead. A lot of rounds were fired over
about an hour and fighter jets flew in to try to find and
destroy the enemy.

It was an odd feeling sat here knowing we would be out
there very shortly. I was not as nervous as I thought I might
have been, going into one of the world's most dangerous
places at night. In fact, I was strangely calm ...

28 May 2007

McNab:
A sad landmark. A mine strike caused the death of the
fiftieth British serviceman killed since Britain moved into Helmand
province. Corporal Darren Bonner, thirty-one, served with
1 Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. He was a committed
Christian and had a fiancée. He had been seen by comrades reading
the Bible the night before he died. Major Dom Biddick, the
commander of A Company, was in the driver's seat when the mine
hit his Viking armoured fighting vehicle, but the blast struck the
rear. Biddick said of Bonner: 'He genuinely cared about the people
of Afghanistan and it is a source of some consolation to those
that knew him that he died on operations contributing to a noble
cause.'

May/June 2007

Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Nieves, The Royal Anglian
Regiment

It was 16 May and we were carrying out 'shaping' operations
on the edge of the Green Zone: trying to shape the enemy to
let them know we were there. We were trying to push into
certain pockets, certain villages where we knew they had
enemy strongholds. It was a show of force. After pushing
through in the day, we would then move back into the desert
away from it at night. And the next morning we would push
into another village. So we were fighting in the Green Zone
but we were living in the desert [at night] by the Vikings. We
were two platoons strong with company tac [tactical support
group] and attachments – the [Royal] Engineers, etc., etc. We
are talking about 120-plus men in all – there were 5 and 7
Platoons, and we had an ANA attachment as well.

For the whole trip, we had contacts. We pushed into the
first village, Zumbelay, I think. We did a bit of firing and
pushed back into the desert, rested up for the night and did
exactly the same on the second day, this time in the village of
Pasab. On the third day, we went to another town –
Hyderabad. We set off at about 8 a.m. – we were running a bit
late because we were having difficulty getting in with the
vehicles. As we were moving through, I saw some locals and
thought: This isn't so bad. At least there are some locals down
there. I said to my platoon commander: 'Boss, you need to
question that guy to see if there have been any Taliban in the
area.' He [the local man] said there had been no Taliban in
the area for a long time.

I remember pushing through this small pocket and coming
out the other end and there was a massive bit of open ground
rising upwards slightly. On the top of a hill there was a compound
that stood on its own. And then there was a horrific
contact. I'd heard nothing like it in my life. It had come out of
nowhere. I got the boys down. But, in fact, the fire was not on
us. It was on the vehicles on the high ground, which were
over-watching our movement.

By now it was about 11 a.m. We decided to break into the
compound on top of the high ground. Once we got into it, we
started to take mortar fire onto us. We had broken in because
we were keen to have somewhere a bit more secure, to get us
out of the open ground and into some more adequate cover.
Until then, we had had the platoon spread across the open
ground. We pinpointed where the Taliban were and fast air
came in dropping 500-pounders. We eventually cleared the
compound that the Taliban were fighting from, and it all went
quiet.

After that there was a lull. It calmed down so we got the
orders from high to move through Hyderabad. The village
went into a triangle with a bridge crossing at the point where
the village ended. I had my platoon [5 Platoon] in a graveyard
and 7 Platoon pushed further forward. Then they got
ambushed at the river crossing. They took two casualties at
that stage. And the fire-fight we had from there was horrific.
We couldn't see the Taliban but they were out-flanking us and
it was then we took the call that the Vikings were coming
down and we had to get the casualties from the other platoon
up. I had one medic with me, but I couldn't send him up
because we were under fire from small arms. We didn't see
the Taliban at all that day but we knew there were a lot of
men.

My instinct was to get the guns up [fire] on the trees, which
the Taliban were using as a firing point. We were firing
GPMGs. From there, the Vikings came down and extracted
the casualties under fire. We got the casualties back, but it
was a frantic moment. Certainly, as platoon sergeant out there
[in Afghanistan], I had two big fears – a mine strike and that
I would [inadvertently] leave one of my guys on the ground.
And at one moment [during the fire-fight], I couldn't account
for all my blokes and they were getting thrown in the back of
the vehicles to get extracted. It was quite an unsettling
moment for me. I was responsible for thirty-four guys, but I
didn't have a hand on how many had been extracted. I had
my little book to tick people off with all the names on like a
school register – for peace of mind for me – but I didn't really
have a hand on it until I got back on top. But once I realized
all the men were there I calmed down. I said to myself: 'I
don't need many more days like this.'

We then took a call, which hit the blokes hard, that we [the
British forces] had had our first two major casualties. One
guy was shot by small arms in his stomach. The other had
shrapnel wounds from an RPG. Then a Chinook flew in and
the casualties were extracted. The guy who was shot had
serious injuries, but they were not life-threatening. We then
took a call that we were going to extract back to FOB
Robinson to recoup the boys – give them a rest. It was now 2
or 3 p.m. So we all loaded up into the Vikings. At that stage,
I took my belt off – the webbing with all the pouches. On the
route back we had the WMIK in front. I was the lead platoon
so I had the Vikings in convoy and we were moving across a
desert. It was a big convoy: we had a good fifteen Vikings and
six or seven WMIKs along with a refuelling truck. I was the
fourth Viking in the packet. We were moving forward, and
that's all I remember.

Suddenly I woke up as if I was in a dream: the cab was
covered with smoke. I couldn't see anything, and I couldn't
hear anything. There was a ringing in my ears. I sort of woke
myself up. I looked down at the door – where the mine had
hit – although I didn't know I had been hit by a mine at that
stage. But the mine strike had blasted the doors ajar slightly,
just enough to put an arm or leg out, but not to squeeze my
body through. I initially went for the door because I thought:
Fuck, I've got to get out of here quick. But I couldn't get out
so I sat back down. I saw the whole engine block was on fire
on my left-hand side. I just remember feeling the heat and I
thought: Fucking hell! I have got to get out of this vehicle! We
had four of us in the front cab: me, the driver, the gunner
sitting on top and I had my 51 [mortar] man sitting on the
seat behind me. In the back cab – because it's a twin cab – I
had seven guys: five engineers, a medic and an additional
sniper, but they were essentially OK.

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