Patrick Bury: We were proud of what we did, but achieved virtually nothing

Eyewitness: We were under-resourced to the point where it was a waste of time and life

Tuesday 21 September 2010 00:00
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The thing I learnt was the mundanity of courage. You just try and get through the day. In summer it is 53C and you are carrying 35kg of kit, so after walking 100 metres you are slurring your words with heat exhaustion. Simply moving about was impossible. In my platoon of 28 we had two battle stress casualties. One of these was probably the bravest man of all because he was the most scared – but didn't want to let down his mates. It is a battle of wits.

Your best defence is your eyeball, to spot the IEDs which are everywhere. There was a suicide bomber very close to our call sign. Then you get to see the absolute detail of war – the bits of body parts flying up on to the roof, heads on the tops of buildings and there's the smell of blood mixed with cordite. You are exposed to extremely graphic violence on a daily basis.

At the start of the tour I had some level of compassion. I used to think about the enemy and that they were probably a young guy like me who hadn't been put on the earth for this purpose. But by the end of a tour you couldn't give a damn.

The Taliban are an extremely ruthless enemy. They planned to attack us when we were returning the body of one of their bombmakers who our medics treated after he blew himself up. They threatened to kill children if we gave them a chocolate bar. Sometimes you feel your rules of engagement make you weaker – they know this and exploit it. And they could be very media-savvy and attack us from civilian compounds hoping to provoke a reaction. Sometimes we turned the ordinary people we were there to defend into targets simply by our presence.

At Sapwan Qala we got involved in a 13-hour battle with the Taliban, an air assault alongside the Paras. A British sergeant-major was shot in front of me. The bullets went past my head and my hands. I don't know how I am still here.

At the time you are proud of the part you have played and to have fought alongside the Paras – but in terms of what we achieved it was really very little. We could have gone back the next day and had exactly the same fight.

When I was there we were under-resourced to the point where it was a waste of time and life. We should have had 20 to 25 soldiers for every 1,000 head of population; in Sangin there were 17,000 people and only 250 of us including the Americans. In terms of my military experience that was enough for me – and a lot of soldiers felt the same way too.

Patrick Bury, 29, is a former lieutenant and infantry commander with the 1st Royal Irish. He served five months in Sangin in 2008 and is the author of 'Callsign Hades'

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