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thedrifter
01-05-09, 06:15 AM
Marines’ 18-day battle for Afghan security


By Rosamond Hutt

Details emerged yesterday of a massive operation by British, Afghan and coalition forces in which troops fought at close quarters, knee-deep in mud, in fierce trench battles reminiscent of the First World War.


The offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province involved more than 1500 troops and was one of the largest operations mounted by Royal Marines since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Ministry of Defence said.

The operation was fought over 18 days around the town of Nad-e-Ali to capture four key Taliban strongholds.

Some of the Royal Marines taking part trudged more than 60km (37 miles) through mud with packs on their backs while also fighting insurgents at close quarters.

A Lance Corporal, signaller with the 77th Armoured Engineer Squadron, said: "I was in Nad-e-Ali for just over two weeks. Some of the places we stayed in were a nightmare - sleeping in the mud was the worst. At times we were exposed and moving ahead of our infantry protection. It felt like we were being watched and it was difficult to tell who the enemy was - it was pretty scary."

The operation, which culminated in a battle on Christmas Day, claimed the lives of five British servicemen and wounded scores of others. Around 100 Taliban fighters were killed, including a senior commander.

Operation Sond Chara - Pashto for Red Dagger - was named after 3 Commando Brigade's shoulder badge.

Describing Sond Chara, Captain Dave Glendenning, commander of the Marines' artillery support team, said: "Almost every day we were involved in intense firefights, from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms shoot-and-scoots' to four-hour battles with the enemy forces as close as 30 metres."

The operation aimed to provide better security in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, following Taliban attacks in October, and to pave the way for a voter registration programme. Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Gordon Messenger of the Royal Marines, said: "This was a very successful operation that demonstrated the ability of the force to surprise, overmatch, manoeuvre and influence over a huge area.Five UK servicemen are killed in assault on Taliban strongholds




"Whilst our efforts have made a significant contribution to the overall Nad-e-Ali security plan, it has not been without sacrifice and we will forever remember the contribution of those who died."

The operation, which also involved Danish, Estonian and Afghan troops, was unleashed in full on December 7 with an assault on insurgent positions in a village south of Nad-e-Ali.

A team of Afghan and British reconnaissance troops, supported by Danish Leopard tanks, attacked under the cover of darkness, taking the Taliban by surprise.

Insurgents responded with 107mm rockets, but were forced to flee after being pounded with mortars, missiles and tank fire. In a raid to the south of Lashkar Gah, troops also discovered a cache of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and drugs, including 400kg of opium worth 2m.

On the night of December 11, Royal Marines from 42 Commando launched a ground and air assault on Nad-e-Ali. The most ferocious fighting of the operation took place during the battle for Zarghun Kalay, north of Lashkar Gah, between December 17 and 19. Stuart Nash, 21, from the 1st Battalion The Rifles, died after being hit by enemy fire. On December 21, 33-year-old Corporal Robert Deering, from Solihull in the West Midlands, was killed by an apparent booby trap trying to help fellow soldiers who had been wounded by an explosion.

Early on Christmas morning (local time), marines began a helicopter assault on Chah-e-Anjir - a key Taliban command and control post from where the October attacks on Lashkar Gah are thought to have been directed. However, before Chah-e-Anjir fell, Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, 20, of Tittleshall, Norfolk, was killed leading his troops.

Two other marines, Tony Evans, 20, from Sunderland, and Georgie Sparks, 19, from Epping, were killed during intelligence gathering.

Ellie