Troops Battle Against The Odds In Helmand
10:51am UK, Monday August 17, 2009
Chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, in Helmand
The fighting is intense. British soldiers up to their waists in canal water are trying to manoeuvre through ditches and across fields towards a Taliban compound 100 metres away, hidden behind a line of trees.
The measured commands in the clipped English accent of their commanding officer clash with the yells and cries of Pashtu and Dari from the Afghan National Army fighting alongside their British counterparts.
Rocket-propelled grenades crash through trees above their heads and Taliban machine guns rattle in the distance as bullets zing past the soldiers.
This is southern Helmand and for months this has been the daily fair of Amber Four Four, a British mentoring team from the Mercian regiment.
They operate from an isolated patrol base, Camp Jaker, in the Nawa district of Helmand.
It is south of the British Headquarters at Lashkagar - only a few miles away but it could be another world.
Sliding down the ramp with my helmet falling over my eyes and dripping with sweat I realised we had landed back where we started.
Nick Ludlam, foreign news editor, in Afghanistan
They were not exactly the "Forgotten Platoon" but from May to July this year Amber 44 were very much alone.
Hemmed in by Taliban from all sides, their base was attacked day and night, day after day, week after week.
Helicopters could not land because they were attacked within minutes.
Everything from food and water to fuel and crucially ammunition were dropped into fields around the camp which the soldiers collected, again under fire.
"It was pretty intense. We knew they couldn’t take the camp because of our firepower but it still meant we had to scurry around the camp firing at the Taliban because they would attack from the north, south, east and west," Sergeant Scott Roxborough told me.
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"The lads would hear a noise and start grabbing their gear wondering it if was about to go off again. It keeps you on your toes."
Jaker is a burnt-out former government building surrounded by a Hesco blast wall with gun turrets at each corner.
From here, Amber Four Four attempted to bring peace and order to the surrounding town and villages.
But in reality they could control little more than 700 meters of road in any direction out of the camp.
Last month the US Marines sent 1200 troops to fortify Jaker and support Amber Four Four before launching an offensive against the Taliban in the surrounding countryside.
British soldiers at Patrol Base Jaker in Helmand province
Amber Four Four convene in the former government building that is their base
Their commander Colonel Bill McCullough praised the work of the British soldiers but added that they were simply ineffective because of their numbers.
"They did what they could and they were brave and in the town did a good job. But they couldn’t push out into the Taliban areas so they could not change the dynamic here," the Colonel told me.
In many ways the story of Amber Four Four is a microcosm of the British military presence in Helmand.
Hard working, brave and militarily excellent, but ultimately undermanned.
"We could control the centre but if we pushed too far out we would have risked being overwhelmed," Captain Ed Brown said.
"The men enjoyed their work but there were 10 of us and 25 Afghan soldiers. There is only so much you can do."
In: Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: , , , British, Soldiers, Wage, Intense, Fight, to, Defend, Remote, Base, From, Taliban, Attacks
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