Read Spoken from the Front Online

Authors: Andy McNab

Spoken from the Front (8 page)

And the rest of the day went just as badly. We were trying
to assess the western side of Garmsir. Every time we stopped,
we'd get mortared. They had us pinpointed every time. A
nightmare. That's why it took so long. The colonel said: 'Stay
there and we will get you some more resupplies.' And the
Chinooks came down and dropped stuff, water and food, and
we carried on. The mortar positions were dug in. They [the
Taliban] would just appear and disappear and that was when
we started to learn about the tunnel complex that they had.
They were hiding vehicles because we were getting reports of
vehicles one minute – we could see brand new Toyota 4x4s –
and they would just disappear. In daytime. They weren't
scared. Some of them had black turbans and red bands
around their turbans. Anything with a black turban and you
knew you were against more of a trained force – rather than
something just thrown together. Anyway, we concluded there
were large pockets of enemy down there. Nowhere near a
thousand. But they were fast and well trained: very movable
from one day to the next.

10 July 2006

The government announced that 900 extra troops would
be sent to fight the Taliban. The move came at the request of military
commanders because fighting had intensified in Helmand. The
first of the reinforcements were due to arrive within two days, and
the number of British troops would then be bolstered from 3,600 to
4,500. Senior defence sources denied, however, that the move was
the direct result of the death of six British troops in a month. The
announcement of more troops was made by Des Browne, who
had taken over from John Reid as defence secretary. He denied
that British forces had underestimated the Taliban threat and
said it had been expected that insurgents would put up a 'violent

14 July 2006

Flight Lieutenant Christopher 'Has' Hasler, DFC, RAF

It was at night and we were making a five-ship [Chinook
helicopters] assault on two compounds in Sangin. We
thought we had the element of surprise but somehow they
knew we were coming. We were low on fuel too but we had
support: three or four Apaches, Harriers, B1Bs [US B1
bombers], F15s or F18s, a Predator and more [all aircraft or
unmanned aircraft]. We had aircraft stacked up from ground
level to space supporting this one op. But we were holding so
long – the commander was an Apache guy. I was the third
Chinook in to land. But the two aircraft behind me had to peel
off because of [a lack of] fuel. This made the troops very
vulnerable – they did not have quite enough men on the
ground to defend themselves.

So I was tail-end Charlie going in. By the time the heli in
front of me was about fifteen feet off the ground, I was still at
about a hundred feet and maybe a half K or a K behind him.
The landing site was a dry riverbed. And then suddenly it
opened up. There were three or four firing positions on each
side [of the riverbed]. I saw an RPG go under and over the
heli in front of me. He had landed now so I knew I had to go
on. It was a long approach knowing you had to fly through
this shit. You can't manoeuvre at all otherwise you'll fuck the
landing. So it was just a question of 'slow, straight, steady'.
The amount of fire was such that it backed down our nightvision
goggles. I couldn't see much at all. It was so bright that
the goggles weren't giving much [assistance]. I was mostly
flying in on instruments. The aircraft flares were popping up
as well and they really backed down the goggles too. There
was a second of clearness where my goggles came back in
and I saw we were about to land in some water. I managed to
pitch up and over that but then I got into the dust cloud. I
couldn't see anything. It was a bit of a rough landing and the
guys were knocked off balance. We said before that the max
we wanted to be on the ground was thirty seconds but we
ended up being there for a few minutes while getting
engaged. I was sitting there thinking, Oh, fuck, without much
to do except look at the view. There were other places I
wanted to be at that time. But we got the boys off.

We were on the deck and tensions were running high. Then
I started to take off but there were two troops still on who
hadn't had time to get off. So we lifted off, but then someone
shouted we still had two guys on so I held it there. But the
guys had already decided they were going to go for it – leave,
jump. I was going to put it back down but they just jumped,
not knowing how high we were. We were probably twenty
feet off the deck but we could have been 200 and they were
going to go for it anyway. They just jumped – that was real
balls. The radio-ops guy broke his foot landing. It was a
communications problem [in the back of the helicopter], but
these things happen.

Then another heavy-machine-gun post opened up behind
us. I looked at my co-pilot and these big balls of green tracer
were passing close to his head. We were very lucky. But we
got out of it. I've never seen that amount of fire before or
since. It was good fun. We then got engaged all the way up
till we were out of the threat band. But we were lucky. I still
don't know how it happened but my aircraft didn't take any
rounds. The other two aircraft took quite a few. We were just
close to the bank and the fire was coming within inches of the
aircraft all around us. We didn't lose any guys, but a guy on
one of the other aircraft got shot in the arm.

1 August 2006

Three Paras were killed in a carefully set ambush as they
went to resupply comrades at a remote outpost in Helmand province.
The men were in a convoy of twelve armoured vehicles. The ambush
was launched by more than fifty Taliban using machine-guns and
RPGs. The men who died, along with another soldier who was
seriously wounded, had leapt out of their Spartan armoured personnel
carriers to engage the insurgents with their rifles. Air support was
called in and an Apache attack helicopter killed at least one Taliban
fighter. The dead men were named as Second Lieutenant Ralph
Johnson, twenty-four, a member of D Squadron, Captain Alex Eida,
twenty-nine, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, and
Lance Corporal Ross Nicholls, twenty-seven, also of D Squadron.

August 2006

Corporal Tara Rankin, 16 Medical Regiment

Corporal Tara Rankin, a combat medical technician currently
serving with 16 Medical Regiment, is twenty-nine. She was born
in Fiji, the daughter of a teacher, and is an only child. Her uncle,
Trooper Talaiasi Labalaba, served in the SAS and was killed
during the heroic battle of Mirbat, Oman, in 1972 when nine
soldiers from the Regiment fought off a 250-strong enemy force.
She was brought up mainly in Britain, and left school at sixteen,
in 1996, to return with her parents to Fiji. Rankin had long
considered a military and medical career, partly to follow in her
uncle's footsteps, so in 2000 she returned to Britain and joined
up the next year as a medic. In 2003 she did a tour in Iraq and
went to Afghanistan three years later. In March 2007, she
married Corporal Simon Rankin, who serves with the Royal
Signals. She is based in Colchester, Essex.

I love my job. I've always liked the medical side of things but
I thought the Army would be a challenge so I might as well
go for it. I like seeing people getting better, being there for
sick people, sick relatives or friends. It's the satisfaction you
get out of helping them to get better. I do feel I'm a front-line
soldier just as much as the men, but sometimes I have to
remind myself that I'm female. It's all about how a female
member of the armed forces fits into the environment. If she
feels at ease amongst her male colleagues, then she'll fit in
well and the men will work well with her.

On 6 August, I was a 7 Para RHA [Royal Horse Artillery]
medic, part of a patrol that deployed out on a three-hour
ground ops known as Op Snakebite with 3 Para. I was
involved as A1 Echelon and RAP Rear [3 Para] alongside our
Canadian med team. The main aim was to resupply Musa
Qa'leh and relieve Pathfinder Platoon. We carried out
patrolling and route clearance. We were reassuring the local
population and, at the same time, looking out for enemy
forces or any enemy activities around the area.

We had to treat a guy who got shot. He had been in a small
convoy helping deliver supplies to Danish troops based near
Musa Qa'leh. He was doing top cover in a WMIK [armed
Land Rover]. It was one of those unexpected events but anything
can happen out here. A young soldier had apparently
got shot by a sniper, just after three p.m. The bullet went
straight through his head and chest. I was sad because he was
only young – nineteen years old – and it was his first tour as
well. When he was shot, I was in a Pinzgauer. We were only
a few hundred yards from him: first we heard an echo [from
a shot] and then a lot of shouting in the distance. The casualty
was brought to us in the back of a Pinz. Then he was put on
a stretcher. We had expected more than one but in the end he
was the only one. There were four of us waiting for him when
he arrived: a doctor, who is in charge, a med senior, who was
a sergeant, and two other medics, including me.

We knew from the start that he was very badly injured.
But we tried to do what we could for him for as long as
possible. We got information on his condition from those who
had accompanied him. But there was no sign of breathing
from the chest and no pulse. Eventually, the doctor had to call
it a day after about twenty minutes. It was very sad, but there
was nothing more that we could do. I had met him before –
he was a funny character, with a great sense of humour. I
used to see him in the cookhouse with his colleagues at Camp
Bastion to say, 'Hi,' and ''Bye,' or to have a cup of tea.

His comrades were in a bad way too. The shock of losing a
colleague, a friend, really got to them. Some were in a state
of shock, feelings of mixed emotions, as well as being
apprehensive for an hour. We had to treat them in the same
way as if they were suffering from battle shock.

August 2006

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

In the middle of the tour, the brigade set up the Security
Sector Reform Cell at the Brigade Headquarters in Lashkar
Gah. This basically meant that we were helping the Afghan
institutions, like the army and the police, get back on their
feet. We had already been helping the army for quite some
time, but there was a recognition that the police play a vital
role in security too and they desperately needed help
with training and mentoring. Although the Foreign Office
employed some ex-civil policemen to mentor the civil police,
they were mentoring at a higher level, the heads of department,
and there was nobody really to mentor the police on
the ground. So this partly became our role. We set up a cell
and formed a team of mentors to go and help them. There
was some training going on that the US provided, but this
was us setting up the British effort to assist the process. This
unit was formed in Lashkar Gah but the boys were going out
on the ground starting in Lashkar Gah and then also in
Gereshk, Sangin and Garmsir.

I sent a young officer down there to Garmsir: a young
lieutenant and a sergeant too. In terms of learning experience,
they certainly learnt a great deal because that was a very
difficult area to work in. It was full of insurgents, and the only
people on the ground in Garmsir were British soldiers,
Taliban and Afghan police. All the civilians had long gone: it
was far too dangerous. Lieutenant Paul Armstrong and the
sergeant did what they could to mentor the police but it was
hard work. They had quite a nasty incident where a lot of
the guys they had been mentoring were blown up by a roadside
bomb. Some died, and others had horrendous injuries.
After the incident, the police brought their injured to the
British camp. The lieutenant was giving first aid to the guys
he had been mentoring and that was quite hard for him
because he was only a young guy and, of course, he had
formed a bond with them. They had been working together
for a few weeks.

The Afghan police are under-funded, under-manned and
in a very difficult position. No doubt some may have family
ties to elements of the Taliban, but the one feeling I did get
was that we were all on the same side, that there was a
common enemy. In fact, they were constantly being targeted
– and they were losing more police than we were [losing]
soldiers. They were targeted on a regular basis, occasionally
in their homes but mainly at check-points, small police
stations and in their patrol cars. Of course, they didn't have
the fire-power that the British had, or the fire-power of the
Afghan National Army. They were limited in what weapons
they could hold and they were quite vulnerable in a lot of

We started off with just three of us at the headquarters in
this new cell. I then detached an RMP section to it and there
was also an infantry platoon dedicated to it. There were no
Afghans as part of the cell; our team would go out to
Afghans. We formed two teams and they would go to the
check-points and to the police stations and initially we were
trying to establish exactly what was in Helmand province
because it was quite difficult to discover how many police
actually existed there. Having the chance as a late-entry
officer to command a company on an operation such as Op
Herrick was fantastic. That sort of opportunity doesn't come
along all the time and I just found the whole experience very

There were times when we had some near misses. Seeing
the boys come back safely off the ground when they had been
near to an incident was always a relief. I liked the Afghans,
very tough, resilient people. They were generous. They didn't
appear underhand or out for themselves as individuals. They
were a united entity.

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