A Soldiers Story


Mi Sergeant Major
MI.Net Member
Apr 12, 2005
This was taken from the Observer and is supposed to be the real story of what's actually going on in Afghanistan. Very interesting!! and probably closer to the truth than our eminent politicians are telling us.

Words from the front line: the bloody truth of Helmand – by a combat soldier

The past eight weeks have been the army's worst time in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion eight years ago. Here, in his brutally frank diaries of life on the front line, a serving soldier records the bitter toll of death, and his anger and frustration at the lack of military and political support

Mark Townsend

The Observer, Sunday 23 August 2009

It is called Operation Minimise, an order from brigade headquarters in southern Afghanistan to restrict communications. British troops in Helmand province dread Op Minimise. They know commanders will be phoning the UK, a call that will lead to a family being told that their son or daughter is dead.

Over the past eight weeks in Helmand province, British forces have requested Op Minimise 37 times, more than once every day-and-a-half. Yet, despite this being the bloodiest period for British troops in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion eight years ago, few first-hand accounts from Helmand's front line have emerged.

Now the Observer can publish the diaries of a serving combat soldier engaged in the fiercest fighting of recent weeks. He tells how his unit was embroiled in up to six "contacts" a day, sometimes against Chechnyan snipers, on other occasions highly trained Pakistani militia. The author himself is credited with killing more than 30 Taliban.

The extracts open with a couple of typical patrols in the days after the author was shot in the chest during Operation Panther's Claw, the offensive in central Helmand to stabilise the region for last week's presidential elections. Despite his deteriorating condition, he chose to continue fighting as his unit pushed north. Some days his section would be attacked for hours on end. Twice the Viking armoured vehicle he was travelling in was struck by roadside bombs, though all troops inside survived.

Finally, the extent of his injuries would prove too great. In excruciating pain, the infantryman was flown back to the army's major field hospital in Helmand, Camp Bastion.

From Bastion's hi-tech wards, his diaries document the relentless roll call of casualties in the fallout of Panther's Claw. Last week, official figures revealed the number of personnel wounded in July was more than the total for the whole of 2006.

The diaries tell of the urgent appeals across Bastion's vast grounds for personnel to donate blood as supplies ran low in the face of the mounting injury toll. They, too, clearly illustrate the frequency of Operation Minimise.

As questions mount over the growing threat of failure for British forces in Helmand, this soldier's observations offer a fresh, sobering perspective of the war. But they also offer a personal account of a man who went head-to head with a disciplined and tenacious enemy only to be told he will never fight again.

18 July

Typical patrol. Went about 800m from base and talked to some locals who told us that a suicide bomber was on the loose. Two explosions went off to the east. It's funny, you start running but you're scared to step on a pressure pad and when the explosions first go off you freeze for that split second. Then you start patrolling again a little faster.

They started firing from across the bank today. We need better weapons. Every one of the SA80s stopped firing after one round (weapons were cleaned and oiled just as we were trained) but these weapons are a load of shite.

The chiefs should be pressing for a better weapons system. And why don't the army have more sniffer dogs? Would be finding IEDs [improvised explosive devices] a lot easier with a furry friend running about and a lot more lives would be saved. Since I've been here, haven't seen one dog. Told might have to go back to Camp Bastion because of injury.
19 July

Got up at 07:20 and had a wash in the canal. At 17:40 HVR [Heavy Velocity Round] hit the sangar [watchtower] so we headed up to take a look. Taliban had been engaged at compound 46. I spotted a sniper 500m away, crouching behind compound 37. He put his head up to get his bearings and we saw his scoped weapon. We fired a single round and hit him in the head. Waited to see if he had anyone with him. After 20 minutes we engaged one gunman at compound 46 and hit him "centre mass" [chest]. Both kills are confirmed by Apache helicopter. Later one man ran forward and recovered the body from compound 46. I watched him through the night sight but didn't engage. He was unarmed and was committing a brave act. He might have been the enemy but I wouldn't kill a medic and I suppose I treated him as the same.
20 July

Back to Bastion. Commanding officer says I need to get checked out after dizzy spells and bad pain.
21 July

Had a full English with a cup of tea, top drawer. Waiting to have a hearing test with the nurse. She said that if I was H4 [deaf] I could be sent back to the UK. Some lads pretend they are H4 just to get home early. I told her that I wanted to get back to the unit asap. She looked a little confused. This place scares me at times, but it doesn't scare me enough to go back on false pretences.

While in hospital they brought in loads of lads who had just been blown up. They were in a bad way. They were morphined and just sat there shocked, staring into space.

The medics are a mega-bunch. You know that whatever happens they work together like a well-oiled machine to keep you alive. As a combat soldier it makes you feel better knowing that, no matter what state you end up in, you're in the hands of these medics.
22 July

After physio, went to the Naafi [Army shops and cafes] for a brew to watch the news. Op Minimise has been called. Somebody has been killed in an explosion. Found out later it was A. He was a great kid and I was only talking to him the other night. He got killed searching for IEDs. I just hope he was killed instantly and didn't suffer. He volunteered to go on this tour. He was also there with B who was shot in the head by a sniper, shot between the eyes while wearing his helmet. We are so spread out and overstretched on the ground and it means the Taliban are taking the piss. They can lay these IEDs at f***ing will. We are not there at the moment to put out ops or sniper over-watch and the Taliban know it.

Gordon Brown can talk whatever **** he wants. He is a politician not a soldier. The men here know the reality of it all. How many of the politicians have kids in the forces doing Op Brama [metal detecting for IEDs]? **** all.
23 July

Physio went well, but my back is hurting and the shooting pains through my body are doing my head in. The Mastiff [armoured vehicle] lads are in here and they have told me what happened to A. He stepped on a pressure plate. Lost both legs below the knee, arm below the elbow as well as back injuries. Relieved he was killed instantly. My heart goes out to his family. Going to bed 20:00hrs.
24 July

Had the day off so did my exercises and went for a long walk. Leg clicking still doing my head in and the shooting pains are becoming, well, a real pain.

Throughout last night the Tannoy was asking for all personnel with blood types A+ and O to give blood. Seven blokes have been blown up in a Viking and one has been shot by his mate.
25 July

Visit physio as per usual. During the night Operation Minimise was called again. One bloke has been hit by an IED. Saw a couple of my boys, they look shocked because they thought I had been shot in the head.

Another soldier has been killed from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery (IED). It's not been a good month with all the deaths. Talking to blokes from other units we reckon we have taken up to 160 casualties on top of the dead. The public don't get told that.
26 July

The mates of A have turned up for the repatriation of their friend. It's sad that it is for somebody so young. Another five soldiers are being repatriated as well. We have spent all that money on a new bomb-proofish vehicle but you've still got four blokes with metal detectors out at the front of it and one commanding them. Sometimes I just don't get it. We need to invest in better bomb detection equipment and get more dogs out here. Surely there is something that we can use to trigger bombs off early?

Got told that a checkpoint spotted two males lying prone and digging on the track where we keep getting hit. Then with all the fussing about we only fired warning shots at them. Another wasted opportunity. The fact is we have Taliban conducting patrols 800m away from our checkpoint and they are not getting touched. Why are we not smashing these patrols to pieces? Why are snipers not being used to counter the threat? It makes me f***ing mad.

Tannoy for blood went off again. Another lad killed in an explosion and one injured. (Op Minimise again).
27 July

Went to physio and legs a lot better but back pain persists. If no better by Friday, then might have to go back to the UK for an MRI scan. I just hope it doesn't interfere with R&R and operational bonus.

Went to pay my final respects for A. There was a big turnout to honour the fallen. When they went on to the aircraft, the men and women stood either side in single file and turned 45 degrees when the last coffin had passed them. There was a short blessing on the aircraft before the ramp closed. It was very emotional but fitting to know that if you are killed you will be honoured correctly. I hope A's family are comforted by the fact his mates looked after him and placed him on the aircraft.

Seven more came into hospital, two badly wounded. The badly injured lad who came in the other day died yesterday. Sad news.
28 July

Woken early even though welfare promised that we could have a lie-in. We heard C had been blown up while doing Op Brama in exactly the same place A was killed. Told that a checkpoint was getting smashed by small-arms fire and the lads had to ask for mortar support. Still having a lot of trouble with the pain in my back. Might be going back to the UK. Am gutted at the possibility of leaving the lads.
29 July

Went on the internet and learned of D's death. Totally f***ing gutted. He was a really good lad. I hope he didn't suffer. Went to physio. She told me I would have to see surgeon commander.
30 July

Read some newspapers today. Totally sick of all the shite they are full of. A cricketer is a f***ing hero [Flintoff]. He throws balls at a man with a big stick for ****'s sake. Who cares who Jordan is shagging? Operation Minimise again. More soldiers killed.
31 July

Got up and had a cinnamon roll and cup of tea. As I logged on to the internet, another Op Miminise. The boys must be getting smashed. The Mert [Medical Emergency Response Team] helicopter has not stopped. Went to see the surgeon commander but she is busy playing Frankenstein. Two Mert helicopters and two others come in. God knows what's going on. Just hope they are not too badly injured.

The treatment is top notch from the battlefield to the hospital, but less so after that. There really should be a dedicated team to care for the fallen.
1 August

Told that E and F were on the helicopter that had just flown in. Their vehicle had been hit by a 40kg IED. Went to the hospital to see them. E had a bad arm and F had his vertebrae done in and will be out for eight months. They were in a Mastiff, that's why they survived. They were both very lucky. The Mastiffs are worth their weight in gold.

The surgeon commander, who is a really nice person, explains to me that my army days are over. The smack in the chest has ended my days as a combat soldier but I got what I wanted out of this tour, which was closure and my pride restored. Gutted, though, that I can't go back out on the ground.
3 August

Fly home. Blokes with no legs on board. Sit next to one lad who is completely deaf. Another tells me he has been hit with IEDs four times while inside a Viking and he's just had enough, too frayed to get inside another vehicle.

Out of respect to their families, the Observer has removed the names of the soldiers killed and injured.
The conflict in figures

206 British troops have died in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001. Around half have been killed by hidden Taliban bombs.

29 of the fatalities have been from the south east of England, the hardest-hit UK region. The north west is next with 22, followed by the east Midlands with 21.

56 British troops have been killed in the Sangin district of Helmand province, statistically the most dangerous area for British troops.

790 UK service personnel have been admitted to Helmand field hospitals over last three years.

235 of these have been categorised as seriously or very seriously injured.
94 were wounded last month. The total figure for 2006 was 85.
It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same... for the infantry anyway. God Bless the infantry, for they are the ones who truly know war up close and personal and they are the ones always expected to do or die, with or without public support. It seems the British troops particularly in Afghanistan, are having a difficult time in an unpopular war. There appears to be a lack of equipment, radios, helicopters, good intelligence, night vision gear, even mail from home. If only they were appreciated for what they endure and accomplish and if only they were allowed the luxury of being listened to instead of being pushed aside for high-tech and expensive weapons systems and games of political intrigue by whomever occupies #10 Downing Street. And when these IED resistive vehicles and expensive weapons systems are available, the troops in combat seem to be the last to get them. I don't know what more can be expected from soldiers who put their life on the line for their nation and expect only what they give in return... loyalty and support, honor and honesty, and a whole lot of personal sacrifice and courage. This is what this diary says to me and it inspires me to write these words on their behalf.
Semper Fi

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