THIS WON'T LOOK GOOD ON NEWS 24!
A Force on Force AAR
3rd battalion Mercian Regiment, having just taken up position in the Afghan town of GERESHK at the start of their tour, assigned 3 platoon, A Company with attachments to set up and man a patrol base approximately 7km SW of the town guarding the outlying communities in that area and interdicting Taliban movements along the canal line. For the deployment the platoon utilised its Warrior AFVs to transport all of necessary equipment and supplies, although these would return to GERESHK on completion of the deployment to form part of the central reserve. This meant that the infantry had to walk as the vehicles were fully loaded with equipment. The convoy was further reinforced by the addition of a SCORPION reconnaissance vehicle and a JACKAL, which replaced the originally intended second SCORPION which suffered a mechanical defect just before the operation.
The Taliban gained knowledge of the intended movement, and the local insurgency leader decided to take the opportunity to catch an element of the British force relatively isolated. An ambush was set up approximately 2/3 of the way to the intended patrol base location where there was a pinch point due to a second canal perpendicular to the main one starting not far from the road, and where there was a small settlement providing good fighting positions. The Taliban deployed virtually their entire available force of Tier one fighters in the operation and called on all the local Taliban available to support this.
Approaching the ambush site, the British had decided to move on a wide front, with 2 infantry sections and their armoured vehicles moving cross country south of the road in the lead, with the 3rd section echeloned to the right on the road, followed by the command vehicle and the reconnaissance vehicles. The Taliban were deployed in depth in the village and across the canal in hidden positions. The dismounted infantry from the 3rd section got ahead of their Warrior and one fire team came under small arms and RPG fire from across the canal, causing casualties. Return fire from the section and the Warrior quickly silenced the attackers, but one man was seriously injured and had to be escorted back to the medic. During the exchange of fire the 3rd section Warrior driver noticed a suspicious patch of disturbed surface in the road. Wary of IEDs, the EOD engineer was called forward to investigate, stalling the advance along the road.
Further south, the 1st section investigated the first building of the village, locating and neutralising a Taliban reinforcement hotspot. 2nd section, in the centre, attempted to enter a second building but detected what they thought was a booby-trap. This further delayed the advance as the EOD engineer had to complete work on the road before he could start work on this new suspected bomb. As it turned out, both were harmless, but put the convoy seriously behind schedule.
The next contact came on the southern flank, where 1st section came under fire when they emerged onto the roof of the building. The firefight was extended and intense with both the 1st and 2nd section Warriors supporting the infantry with 30mm fire, and multiple Taliban cells joining the fight despite suffering heavy casualties. The British forces also suffered growing casualties, including medic when she went to assist. The area between the house occupied by part of 1st section and the nearby field seemed to be particularly dangerous, with numerous soldiers hit.
In an effort to ease the pressure on the infantry and clear resistance, the two Warriors moved to the south of the village to obtain a better firing position. They came under RPG fire as they came to a halt, but quickly silenced the RPG gunner. As the vehicles prepared to open fire on the nearest Taliban cell, an Afghan man moving surreptitiously was spotted in the nearby crops. Before either vehicle could react, the man set off a massive IED, catching both vehicles, disabling one and causing the other to catch fire, and killing one of the crew. The loss of the Warriors put the British on the back foot, and the Taliban took the initiative, bolstered by more reinforcements including 2 sniper teams that caused the British problems for the rest of the engagement. Attempts by the British to recover the situation by deploying their attached machine gun and sniper teams were foiled when the machine gun team was hit by heavy fire, killing one man and pinning the other, and the sniper team was engaged by a long-range Taliban sniper, hitting both men.
On the road, with the suspected bomb cleared, the 3rd section Warrior advanced, to be confronted by a number of civilian vehicles coming down the road towards GERESHK in a narrow section where there was no opportunity for the vehicles to pass. After a short stand-off, the Warrior commander decided to advance, crushing one vehicle and shoving others off the road, resulting in a group of irate afghan drivers shouting curses and throwing the odd rock at the British vehicle and it supporting troops as they passed. About 100 yds out of the narrow section the curses appeared bear fruit as the Warrior hit a buried IED which disabled the vehicle.
The Scorpion, meanwhile, had been sent to the southern flank to support the troops fighting there. The tank engaged two Taliban cells, with good effects before a suicide bomber surprised the crew and knocked out the vehicle's 30mm cannon. The crew pressed on, however, and continued to engage the Taliban with their coax machine gun until the tank commander was hit by a Taliban sniper.
At the rear of the British force the commander had finally managed to contact Battalion to request a medevac flight for the growing number of casualties being collected from the fighting line. With three of the MICVs out of action and the Scorpion effectively out of the fight, the commander's priority became holding the scene of the action until reinforcements could arrive and recover the vehicles and the supplies they held.
On the Taliban side, their commander was looking at the few effective fighting men he had left with some concern. He decided to commit his last surprise, a vehicle-borne suicide bomb, which attacked the already disabled 3rd section Warrior. The vehicle was unaffected, but the Royal Engineer team following behind it was caught in the blast causing several casualties.
The British has suffered 11 serious wounded and 9 killed of their approximately 40 troops, along with one Warrior destroyed, 2 disabled and the Scorpion damaged, rendering 3 platoon incapable of fulfilling their mission. They had also lost 25% of their supplies and ammunition in the destroyed Warrior and had no means of transporting most of the rest due to the damage to the other two section vehicles. They were incapable of advancing further, although they could still hold position, especially if the platoon regrouped on a defensible position.
The Taliban, while having prevented the British achieving their objectives, had taken heavy losses, particularly amongst their most experienced men who had borne most of the fighting, and had also lost 6 of their leaders. Seeing the state of the British, and with helicopters audibly inbound, they decided that this was an appropriate time to break off.
Victory points - British -29; Taliban 69 - a decisive Taliban victory
After the action, 5 of the seriously wounded were able to return to duty almost immediately, although 6 required a longer stay in the hospital at Camp Bastion. 9 replacements were allocated to 3 Platoon including 3 just out of training but also one who had just be reassigned from undisclosed duties.
Within the week a reinforced company operation established the patrol base as originally intended and without enemy contact. With its replacements and recovered men, 3 platoon formed the garrison.
While the Taliban clearly won the engagement, the cost was such that the insurgency did not obtain any development from this action, but they have shown that they can deal the British a bloody nose, which will not hurt their cause amongst the local population. This initial action promises a hard tour for the British in GERESHK.
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