Sunday, September 24, 2006



From Times Of London :

The commander of British troops at the outpost of Sangin in southern Afghanistan has described how a shortage of troops forced him to co-opt engineers and military policemen as infantry during a fierce battle with the Taliban in which one of his best soldiers died.

With considerable understatement, Major Jamie Loden of 3 Para described his period in charge of British troops defending Sangin as “fairly intense”. “I have been in the field since July 27 and have only had three days with no contact,” he wrote in a series of leaked e-mails.

While Loden was full of praise for his own men, he was highly critical of air support for his troops — accusing the RAF of being “utterly, utterly useless”.

“A female Harrier pilot ‘couldn’t identify the target’, fired two phosphorus rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming rocket-propelled grenades, and then strafed our perimeter, missing the enemy by 200 metres,” Loden wrote. He also expressed anger at the maverick behaviour of army Apache helicopter pilots, describing them as “egotistical”.

On Loden’s first day at Sangin, the British attacked a group of Taliban, only to discover that two other groups were waiting for them. The hero of that engagement was Corporal Bryan Budd, who had served in the Parachute Regiment’s elite Pathfinder unit on operations in Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We initiated a contact with enemy pre-seen,” Loden said. “Unfortunately the pre-seen were only one of the three firing points and two of Budd’s section were quickly wounded. He pushed forward to drive the enemy back, and personally dispatched some enemy taking cover with a couple of grenades and some rifle fire.”

Just over three weeks later, on August 20, one of the platoons, around 20-strong, was using explosives to punch holes in the walls of their base so that it would be easier to patrol.

Budd’s section was to the right of the group, providing cover to the troops using the explosives. To the left, another section with a Land Rover fitted with a heavy machinegun was doing the same.

“Budd saw the enemy 25 metres in front behind a bush line and, using hand signals, organised his section to attack,” Loden said. “As he went forward the Land Rover on the left was ambushed.

“Despite this, he led his section forward with heavy fire, personally accounting for at least two enemy.” But he and three of his section were then hit by Taliban fire.

“As the section pulled back in the face of heavy fire, no one saw Budd was down,” Loden said. “The other two casualties were pulled back, and shortly afterwards Budd was declared missing in action.”

The platoon commander and one of the sections tried to push forward to find him but were driven back by heavy fire.

The company sergeant-major drove forward on a quad bike to recover the casualties while the platoon commander tried to find another route, despite receiving “shrapnel in his backside”. A second section commander was wounded.

With intercepts of Taliban communications showing that they were trying to surround the troops, Loden began putting together two more sections using engineers and two military policemen who had been investigating the accidental death of another soldier.

“The company sergeant-major made another trip out and back on the quad bike to collect the third casualty, this time coming under fire himself but continuing nonetheless,” he said. “I began assembling more forces to push out to bolster the position on the ground. I sent forward a section of engineers with the second platoon commander to effectively control the rear.

“The second platoon commander tried to push round the flank towards Budd but was engaged by enemy across the river and pinned down. I now created two more sections, one led by a corporal from the sniper section with an engineer staff sergeant as the second-in-command and including the Royal Military Police sergeant and corporal.”

At this point there were 80 troops on the ground while Loden himself co-ordinated artillery, mortars and air support.

One team of soldiers to the east of Sangin reported that Taliban insurgents were moving more weapons out of a mosque and were engaged with mortars.

“RAF Harriers overhead could not identify a target, but would have been too close anyway for bombs. Nonetheless, they fired a rocket that missed by about 700 metres. Thankfully by this stage two Apaches arrived.”

Loden passed control of the Apaches to the first platoon commander who used them to bring down accurate fire on the Taliban positions. Then, with Taliban mortars beginning to home in on the British troops, the first platoon found Budd.

“It was around an hour since he had been hit, and initially (he) had no pulse,” said Loden. The troops tried to resuscitate him. “The company sergeant-major raced out on the quad bike and retrieved him, but the doctor was unable to save him.”

Budd, 29, who lived with his wife Lorena and their daughter Isabelle in Ripon, North Yorkshire, was the seventh British soldier to die in Sangin in the past few months.

As the two platoons — “now clearly exhausted” — half ran, half limped towards them, Loden and the other paratroopers watching from the roof of the British base shouted to them to run faster and spread out to avoid Taliban mortar fire. Afterwards, as the adrenaline seeped away and Loden and his men reflected on the battle, there were “plenty of tears, which is all rather humbling”.

While Loden’s criticisms of the RAF have made headlines this weekend, his pride in the sheer dogged bravery of what he calls his “Toms”, the ordinary British soldiers, shines through from his e-mails. “They were all exhausted and scared,” Loden said. “There were many people on that day who will go unrecognised but simply volunteered immediately to go out as part of the reinforcements regardless of rank or experience.”

It was the bravery of Budd, whose wife was pregnant with their second child, that Loden was determined to put on record. “He was an outstanding junior NCO and he will be sorely missed. I hope to get him more fitting recognition in the longer term."