Read Spoken from the Front Online

Authors: Andy McNab

Spoken from the Front (3 page)

Upon arriving at 1500L, we were received by the movers
and told that our onward flight to Kandahar wouldn't be
leaving until 0500L the following morning. It almost felt good
being fucked around again by the movers, like some sort of
global balance was restored.

Finally, we arrived at KAF [Kandahar airfield] at 2300L on
the 19th. KAF runs on Zulu time [a military time zone the
same as Greenwich Mean Time], though, so it was actually
0300Z. It would have been great to get our heads down at that
point, as we were all exhausted, but instead we were thrust
immediately into theatre briefs ... very long briefs.

We awoke today with the sun and were subjected to more
briefs and familiarized ourselves with the running of the ops.
The latter took the majority of the day.

Upon initial assessment, it is quite clear to me that 'Afghan'
is going to be much busier than Iraq. Just today a large
US, French and ANA (Afghan National Army) convoy left
Camp Kajaki down in the north of Helmand and headed
for Camp Robinson in the south. They were ambushed by
approx 15 TB (Taliban) and suffered heavy casualties (35–40
dead), including 2–3 French and 2 US. The Chinook IRT
[incident-response team] was ordered to pick up the casualties
and provide top cover (aided by Harrier and Apache).
Later, the 3 Chinooks were tasked with landing the Paras in
and around the TIC [troops in contact] in order to provide a
defensive line.

Yesterday a Canadian FAC [forward air controller] was
killed by an RPG whilst directing A-10s [planes] and Apaches
onto an enemy position. She was the first female cas [casualty,
fatality] suffered since the Second World War. This place
is definitely dangerous and we are right in the middle
of it.

May 2006

Major Maria Holliday, QGM, Royal Military Police (RMP)

Major Maria Holliday, QGM, of the Royal Military Police (RMP) is
forty-nine. She was born and brought up in Chorley, Lancashire.
An only child, her father was an armaments inspector. She
attended Holy Cross High School in Chorley before joining the
Army in 1978. Her father had served in the Army during the Second
World War and Holliday was just four when she announced she
intended to follow in his footsteps. She joined as a private in the
Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC), but later transferred to
the RMP. Holliday served in Northern Ireland for more than seven
years, during which she was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal
(QGM). She was commissioned as a late-entry officer in 1999. She
served in Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2006. Holliday is based at
the Army's Bulford camp in Wiltshire.

I arrived in Afghanistan in early April 2007 as the company
commander for 174 Provost Company 3 RMP and as the force
provost marshal [FPM] for the UK task force. We deployed on
6 April after completing a six-month training period in the
UK. When we first deployed, although my company headquarters
was in Kandahar, I also had a detachment in Kabul
and the majority of my troops were in Helmand province. I
spent an awful lot of time on the road, so to speak, but
actually in helicopters. If I had been collecting air miles I
would have been doing very well! I was spending quite a lot
of time in Helmand but about seven weeks into the tour I was
also appointed as the SO2 ANP in addition to my company
command and FPM role – this meant I was a staff officer
responsible for the Afghan National Police, as part of a newly
formed Security Sector reform cell.

I had never been to Afghanistan before. When you land on
an RAF flight somewhere like that, all the lights get turned off and you have
to put your helmet and all your body armour on whilst sitting in your seat
on the plane; I think people who have never experienced that before feel a
bit of trepidation landing like that – it all goes very quiet. When
you arrive in Kandahar it's a huge, multinational camp. It was only half built
at the time. A lot of things were still going on in terms of building but
it had all the normal facilities that you get on a large army base whilst
on a deployment, like little shops and cafés and stuff like that. Because
it's an air base, it's a huge camp but you don't get to see anything of Kandahar
itself, unless it's your job to patrol there.

Throughout May, I spent my time going between
Kandahar, Kabul, Camp Bastion and Lashkar Gah. As
company commander, I had to make sure that the brigade
commander was getting the RMP support he needed, in the
right places and at the right time, to support his operations.
So it was just ensuring any planned operation was given
RMP support at the right level and choosing the right
characters for it, depending on what the operation was. One
of our main roles out there was getting involved in detention
issues, giving advice and guidance to commanders on the
ground when they took an Afghan detainee. We had to
ensure that that detainee was handled correctly and that
the evidence to support the arrest was gathered in the
right way. We would guide them [British soldiers] on how
best to produce that evidence and what evidence would
be needed to support the detainee being handed over to the
Afghans.

It was a very difficult situation, bearing in mind that we
were there to support the Afghans. We were not at war with
them so any arrested locals were designated as detainees –
they were not prisoners of war. Quite often during operations
in Helmand – which involved other nationalities [such as the
Americans] – if somebody was injured, they might be flown
to the British medical facility in Camp Bastion, even if they
were suspected to be Taliban. Then, by virtue of the fact that
the British medical services were looking after them, they
became a British detainee. So trying to gather the evidence
against them was difficult because we were going up
different military chains, different national chains.

But that was not our only role. We also acted as first
responders where we could in the case of a UK death. Our
Special Investigation Branch [SIB] colleagues are appointed
coroners' officers: they gather evidence and investigate the
death. Every UK death is treated as an alleged murder; the
SIB gather evidence for the UK coroner on his behalf. So,
as first responders to any UK death, we had to gather
any evidence we could from the scene in terms of forensic
evidence and witness statements. That is part of the RMP
role, which can be difficult depending on where the incident
has occurred and what the tactical situation is on the ground.
There were some scenes [scenes of crime] that you simply
couldn't get anywhere near because it was too dangerous.

We also police the [British military] force. As part of our
traditional military-police role, we would investigate fights
or thefts just as we would anywhere else.

In normal policing terms, it was relatively quiet because the
troops were so busy and Afghanistan is 'dry': they weren't
allowed to drink alcohol, and alcohol always fuels fights and
the like, so, in terms of traditional policing, there was very
little to do. The main thrust of our work, and certainly that of
the SIB, was investigating the deaths of British soldiers but
also supporting operations. We had thirty deaths throughout
our six-month tour. The SIB were the prime investigators but
we worked alongside them.

21 May 2006 [diary]

Flight Lieutenant Christopher 'Has' Hasler, DFC, RAF

A frustrating day. I've been here for a few days now and still
haven't flown yet. I was a half-hour from getting airborne
today, with all of my kit at the ready, when the aircraft I was
taking over went U/S [unserviceable]. This seems to be a
recurring problem, due perhaps to the amount of flying that
we are demanding from the cabs.

With any luck, I will complete my TQ (theatre qualification)
tomorrow. In any normal theatre [such as Iraq], a
TQ would involve a rather sedate trip, including a local
area familiarization and some dust-landing practice. In
Afghanistan, however, the op tempo is such that there are no
spare cabs or training hours available. Therefore, my TQ
tomorrow will be six hours of operational training, flying the
Paras into the very spot where the convoy was hit yesterday.

May

We did an op – Op Mutay. It was the Paras' first airborne
assault. It was to the eastern village of Now Zad. We knew
there were enemy forces there and we just wanted to kick the
nest a bit and see what happened. It was broad daylight when
we flew in a five-ship assault.

I prefer flying in daylight. You can't see the tracer [firing
from the ground] and you can't hear it because the Chinook
is so loud. If you're getting engaged, you don't know about it,
and that's sometimes a bit better. And you can see where
you're landing so there's less chance of a crash.

I was a flying officer at the time and therefore the co-pilot
in charge of navigation. I was trying not to get us lost or
land in the wrong place. We had decided to assault three
compounds. When you're about half to three-quarters of a
K away, you try to identify the landing spot. But if there's
a shitload of compounds it's hard to ID the right one. It works
sometimes but it's not an exact science. You have an aiming
spot and you have to make sure your buddy [the other
Chinook] can get in too. But for the last twenty feet or so,
there's so much dust that you're blind. It's like flying in
clouds. You just have to trust your techniques and hope you
don't hit a big boulder or go into a ditch you hadn't seen, or
something else goes wrong.

We were engaged before we landed but we didn't know
about it. Then, as soon as the troops got off, there was incoming
[fire]. We landed two aircraft in the back garden quite
close to the compound to shock the hell out of them. The
downdraught kicked up a huge amount of dust. It was my
first real dust landing in anger with guys shooting at me.
Everything was moving so quickly. You're aware straight
away that you're under fire because you're on the same net
[radio network] as the boys. Contacts were being called in but
there was nothing we could do. Our ramp was down, offloading
troops, but you just have to stay there until all the
boys are out. At least the guys in the back [the two crew] have
a mini-gun [a six-barrelled Gatling-style weapon] and two M60s
[machine-guns] that they can hide behind and shoot back.

We could see the fire too but we had no idea where it was
coming from. There were moments where I thought, Please
hurry the fuck up, but you can't rush the boys because they're
going as quick as they can. They don't want to stay on the
helicopter any longer than they have to because they're
vulnerable as well. The helicopter is a big, noisy target. It's no
secret: we're most vulnerable to RPGs and small-arms fire
when we're on our approach and when we're on the ground.

Once everyone was out, we took off. It was tense – maybe
we're just pansies – but we were up again after just a few
seconds. We went airborne and we held in pattern waiting for
a pick-up call, or if there was any injury we'd go and get
them. We listened on the nets for the call to come and get the
injured but it never came. Once we were clear, the two
Apaches went in and covered the boys [on the ground]. It was
the first real helicopter assault on the enemy. We also had
stacks of fast jet up above us too ...

Once all was quiet – after maybe twelve hours – and everyone
[the estimated thirty Taliban] was dead, we went to pick
up the boys. And that's the way it should be. It was a really
good day. Nobody got so much as a paper cut that day and
they killed a lot of their boys [Taliban], so spirits were up.
There had been a couple of really close calls, though. One of
the troops took a round through his chest plate – through the
magazines that were on his chest – and out the other side.
Another guy took an RPG through his Land Rover – they
weren't armoured then. And another guy got kicked by a cow
– they killed the cow obviously! The dits [stories] afterwards
were pretty fucking hilarious. It was great. There had been a
large scope for things to go wrong, but it was great. We felt
very good about things. It was a good eye-opener.

May 2006

Captain Nick Barton, DFC, Army Air Corps

My first ever contact was during Op Mutay. I was the wing
aircraft [of two Apache helicopters] on my first tour. I was
still a captain but only the flight 2IC [second in command].
For the first six weeks it seemed that, operating as a pair, one
of the flights had been in the right place at the right time, had
fired quite a lot, and had had all of the contacts. Not that you
ever want to engage but that's what you're trained to do. For
Op Mutay, we were the high-readiness pair and were only
due to support the op if there was a problem with the
deliberate tasking flight or if it endured past their crew duty.

As was customary we had read into the op: in outline a
daytime op for a 3 Para air assault into Now Zad to target
Taliban forces in a few known compounds. We launched 250
[men] in two waves of Chinooks, a fire-support group and all
the rest of it into the badlands of Now Zad. At the time, we
didn't know how bad they were. The op was starting to
sound quite busy with reports of quite a few contacts and the
supporting Apaches had been firing again. Since we were not
dedicated to support specifically, it was likely that the same
flight was going to have another busy day. We got stepped
up. One of the aircraft had taken a couple of rounds and had
to be shut down for servicing. Our pair complete, we
replaced them and went up making best speed departing
from the gravel pad at Bastion at approximately 10 a.m. There
were various platoons on the ground in two rough groups
and we split our pair up accordingly, one aircraft working to
each of the two forward platoons. Ideally you are speaking
directly to the JTAC [joint terminal air controller] of the lead
company that wants your support.

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