Ambushes, firefights and IEDs hamper latest British offensive

Kim Sengupta reports from Operation Tor Shezada's front line

"We are moving to the compound of Rahmad Yar," was the intercepted Taliban message.

The attack came 53 minutes later, long raking bursts of machine-gun fire along with intermittent Kalashnikov shots. Other targets around the area also began to be hit. The Taliban were not giving up their stronghold without a fight.

Resistance had initially been muted as British and Afghan forces headed south, with insurgent fighters focusing on US Marines coming in the opposite direction. But they had reorganised – with repeated radio calls for ammunition – and were now in a position to hit back.

A series of attempted ambushes continued for the rest of the afternoon as the troops patrolled along tracks, twisting past high-walled compounds; Taliban fighters moved across fields and Apache and Cobra helicopter gunships circled overhead.

Despite the British and Afghan troops enjoying an element of surprise, the insurgents have been able to lay down belts of IEDs, their weapon of choice which have taken a lethal toll in the campaign. These had to be dealt with repeatedly. At least two of the bombs, discovered and detonated, were around 30lbs, capable of causing devastating damage. There was one predictable element to most of the attacks: the insurgents' penchant of broadcasting their intentions. As a patrol made its way through irrigation canals and farmland, an Afghan soldier monitoring Taliban calls warned: "They are ready to engage, and we are the patrol they want to engage." Soon afterwards came the signs of an impending attack: local farmers hurrying their families into their compounds, moving livestock, followed by shots fired low across a field as we dived to the muddy ground.

Operation Tor Shezada is meant to seize control of Saidabad, one of the last towns in central Helmand under insurgent control. The areas were supposed to have been cleared in two high-profile operations – Panther's Claw and Moshtarak. The Marjah mission in February, highly publicised beforehand by Nato in an effort to persuade the Taliban to withdraw without a fight, had not gone totally to plan. The insurgents regrouped to carry out attacks on US forces and beheaded civic leaders. Before his sacking, General Stanley McChrystal described the situation as a "running sore".

Tor Shezada – "Black Prince" in the Dari language – is the beginning of a series of campaigns through which Nato commanders are seeking to inflict a military defeat on the insurgency. Meanwhile politicians in the West clamour for troops to be pulled out and the Afghan President Hamid Karzai edges towards a settlement with the insurgents which is bitterly opposed by the minority non-Pashtun communities in his country.

Jallaluddin Shah, an Afghan army captain, said: "We want to fight the Taliban. We need to beat them and then we can talk. If we do not do so, then we will pay the price in the future. They will keep their weapons and try to take over the country. The people in Kabul need to realise that. The government must know that they will have no authority unless they can protect these people."

While the political accusations and recriminations continue, British and Afghan troops were facing the violent reality on the ground. Progress was slow and dangerous and it is not known when Saidabad would be captured. Killings of civilians in Nato air strikes had caused widespread anger among Afghans and the policy now is to minimise both air and artillery attacks. Major Andy Garner, one of the officers in charge of the operation, called for strikes on two men spotted planting what appeared to be IEDs. However, the request was denied because it was felt at headquarters that the men must be given the benefit of the doubt: they may have been digging irrigation ditches.

Sitting on the roof of Rahmad Yar's compound watching a Javelin missile arc across the sky at a Taliban firing point, Kingsman Reese Curran, from the 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, showed how his life was saved by an inhaler during a previous firefight with the insurgents from Saidabad a few weeks ago.

The 24-year-old was on patrol in the Washaran area when he was shot, but the bullet was deflected by the inhaler. He was pulled clear, but in the ensuing firefight a comrade, Ponipate Tagitaginamothe, from Fiji, was killed as he went to Kingsman Curran's aide.

"My arm was injured, but I know I was extremely lucky, and we have to be lucky to be out here," said Kingsman Curran. "But Tagi died that day and that was very, very sad. He was a real mate and everyone misses him. All we can do is just carry on, but, I can tell you, this is a hard war."

Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence, commander of Combined Force, Nad-e-Ali, said: "So far it has gone well and we are making progress. We think their leadership may well have fled, but we shall see what happens in the next few days. We are dealing with insurgents who had caused a lot of damage and it is essential that we establish security in this area."

The Afghan civilians along the battle line were cautious on choosing sides, a hard-learned lesson from 30 years of strife. Ayub Jan, moving his tractor into the safety of a shed, shook his head. "This is our land, we need this land to feed our families. They are using this for fighting. We hope this will soon be over," he said.

"We all want to have roads, we want to have education for our children and this is something the Taliban cannot provide.

"But how long will the foreign troops stay, our Afghan troops stay? We are afraid of what will happen if they go away and the Taliban return."

His companion, Mohammed Ilyas, nodded. "We do not want foreign soldiers to stay in our country for long; we want the Afghan army to come and stay here," he said. "If they stay they will have the support of all the people. But we must wait and see what happens. We have to be careful."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

Primary General Cover Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Southampton: We are looking for Primary School ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album