Camp Dogwood comes under fire after Remembrance ceremony

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The Independent Online

Camp Dogwood came under fire again yesterday with rockets striking the centre of the Black Watch base for the third time in 24 hours.

The latest attack, in the afternoon, is believed to have followed the same pattern as the previous ones, with the missiles being launched from up to 20 miles away.

Nobody was injured in the attack which came just hours after the Black Watch battle group had held a Remembrance Day ceremony on a field of dust and rocks at the camp in which the names of the casualties from the new deployment in central Iraq were read out. The mood was sombre and reflective as a lone piper marched away to the lament, "Flowers of the Forest".

The service was held 50 yards from where one of the rockets had landed the previous day, and yesterday's attack appeared to come from the same direction, with the helicopter pad once again the apparent target. It was a short ceremony due to the constant threat of mortars and rockets.

On Wednesday, a pilot was seriously injured by a shot from the ground as he was flying his Lynx helicopter from Camp Dogwood to Baghdad. His co-pilot managed to control the spinning aircraft and bring it in to land at the camp.

Yesterday, Captain Scott Watkins, whose actions saved the flight, described what happened. "There were two aircraft, us and a Puma, about halfway to Baghdad, when I heard some shots. I didn't realise at the time that my co-pilot had been hit," he said.

Captain Watkins, 33, is on attachment from the Australian Army Air Corps. "The Puma was in front and radioed that it was under attack. I think, in fact that we flew into the path of the bullets aimed at the Puma.

"I thought at first that the bullets had come through the floor. But what had actually happened was that we were banking hard to the right at the time, and they had come through the window. My gunner saw two guys in a trench firing up from 100 to 200m away.

"It was extraordinarily unlucky that my mate was hit. We have Kevlar seats and Kevlar protection at the sides. There is a two-inch gap between and that is what one of the bullets went through."

Two more bullets damaged instruments in the helicopter. Group Captain Watkins flew the helicopter back to a desert area south of Camp Dogwood before coming in to land.

"We fly low to avoid giving people on the ground too much time to prepare an attack. But I am afraid there are so many people on the ground with guns that something like this will happen," he said.

Faced with a series of suicide bombings, British commanders have changed tactics in their mission to stop insurgents fleeing the US onslaught on Fallujah.

Approaching vehicles are now stopped 300m from checkpoints and told to turn back. Only a few are allowed to go through, and then only after extensive checking with sniffer dogs. But there appears to be no way to stop the barrage of mortars and rockets which descend on Camp Dogwood every day.

Padre Aled Thomas, the chaplain to the Black Watch, said: "Obviously people talk to me about these attacks, that is the natural, human thing to do. I think everyone's minds are focused on doing the job the best they can, and then going home. I think there is a recognition that soldiers are just small cogs in a system. The politicians make the decisions, the soldiers just carry it out."

Lieutenant-Colonel James Cowan, the commanding officer, said: "Our regiment has fought in every major British military campaign. We are a small family regiment. We all knew these men extremely well. We feel their loss deeply, but they would want us to carry on and succeed. We are not going to be put off by talk of failure. We are achieving what we set out to do."

This pool copy dispatch was compiled under Ministry of Defence restrictions.