Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Britain's success in Afghanistan is measured in small steps

Both parents were inconsolable. They stood at the front gate of my patrol base in Wishtan, Sangin, and pleaded for help to find their child. We could give no satisfaction — their six-year-old daughter had stood on a Taleban pressure-pad IED (improvised explosive device); there was nothing left of the poor child. The parents continued to plead — a small part of her broken body would suffice. They had to have something to bury. The 2 Rifles Battle Group know about grief: we have seen friends killed but we had at least been able to salute a coffin. With the heaviest of hearts, my riflemen watched helpless as those heartbroken parents returned home to mourn the loss of a Muslim child who could not be buried.

It is this kind of IED that has been the Taleban’s indiscriminate and careless weapon of choice in the Upper Sangin Valley this summer. I have seen too many Afghans fighting for their lives in my trauma bay. As a battle group, 2 Rifles has dealt with more than 400 IED incidents in our six months here, finding more than 200 devices.

In my first tour of Northern Ireland in 1991-92, my platoon dealt with four IED incidents. We had nine platoons in the battalion then, so perhaps my commanding officer at the time had to deal with 36. These statistics provide some notion of the scale of the fight. One more will suffice — last year in the same period, there were 158 incidents.

And it is in the face of such adversity and such an insidious enemy, which adjusts its tactics almost weekly, that the courageous men and women of this battle group have fought. It is hard to describe the courage required to operate at all, let alone leave one’s base and take the fight to the enemy. But the riflemen and fusiliers of this battle group have patrolled Sangin and its immediate area daily to protect its people. The commitment, grit and indomitability have been humbling to observe. Read more
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