Kim Sengupta: The enemy in Helmand is tough and resilient

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The Independent Online

The first sound I heard was a deafening crash as a suicide bomber drove his car packed with explosives into a Royal Marines convoy. Then there was prolonged gunfire, a screeching of tyres and screams of people as they ran for shelter.

There was nothing much left of the bomber amid the smouldering pile of twisted metal. A Land Rover was catapulted on to the central reservation, its machine guns sticking up in the air, two other vehicles lay abandoned, pockmarked with bullet holes.

Three of the Marines were injured, one of them later died. There were also three civilians killed and 18 others wounded. The attack was in December 2006 on the outskirts of Kandahar aimed at British troops returning to their base in Helmand with supplies.

In the years since, both the scale and ferocity of the insurgency have grown and the numbers of deaths among British and allied soldiers have risen steadily.

The enemy in Helmand is tough and resilient. During an operation south of Garmsir earlier this year British troops I accompanied called in air strikes on a Taliban compound with a Harrier and an American B1 bomber which dropped a 500lb bomb and then mortar rounds.

As debris from the blasts sprayed over us in a ditch it seemed implausible that anyone could survive. But, the Talibs were heard on the radio reporting "they have dropped a big bomb on us" as they resumed their firing.

With the US-led "surge" due to start and the insurgents carrying out their own offensive we can expect a long, hot summer in Helmand and a war which will go on for a very long time.