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Harriers dodge missiles fired by the Taliban.

Byline: By CAROLINE GAMMELL

BRITISH Harrier jets have been fired upon by surface-to-air missiles while providing crucial air support in the fight against the Taliban, a senior pilot said yesterday.

Squadron Leader Damien Killeen, 33, operational commander for the Harrier detachment based in Kandahar, said anti-coalition forces (ACM) had a number of American, Russian and Chinese weapon systems at their disposal.

Although the Harriers are partly in Afghanistan to provide support to the US Operation Enduring Freedom targeting global terrorism, 75% of their time is currently focused on supporting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Helmand.

The six GR7 jets based in Kandahar, which can fly low level at 500mph, have supported some of the fiercest fire-fights including a three-day stand-off with the Taliban in Musa Qaleh.

They use a range of weapons ranging from single shot rockets to airburst bombs and Paveway laser guided bombs.

Anti-coalition militia have retaliated against the Harriers with their own weapons, but with little impact.

Sqn Ldr Killeen, from Bolton, said: "There have been engagements against aircraft, isolated engagements, whilst low flying - small arms, rocket propelled grenades, small rockets - the standard ACM arsenal. We haven't suffered any damage.

"There are portable air defence systems (surface-to-air missiles) in theatre, definitely, there are also triple A systems, anti-aircraft artillery."

When asked if they had been used, he replied: "Yes. Without going into too much detail there are triple A pieces known to be on the ground in Helmand."

Sqn Ldr Killeen said the number of such weapons in the province was small.

One of the major incidents in which the Harriers were involved was in Musa Qaleh, to the north of Helmand province, in July.

A number of British, Danish and Afghan troops were effectively garrisoned in the town by the Taliban and running out of food and water.

It was decided that an international ground convoy should go into Sangin to extract the UK Pathfinder troops who had been in the area for eight weeks and re-supply the 7 Para Royal Horse Artillery, ANA and Danes

As the convoy approached Musa Qaleh, it received intelligence that there may be an ambush so the Harriers were instructed to carry out a show of force, flying low and loud without firing a shot.

This did not deter the Taliban.

A rocket was fired to little effect but a bomb on the enemy positions silenced their weapons. Sqn Ldr Killeen, who was part of the operation, said: "If that convoy hadn't made it through on the day that it did - and we had been trying for several days - on that particular day the guys in town were out of food and out of water.

"The guys in town were at absolute minimum."

welshnews@dailypost.co.uk

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Squadron leader Damien Killeen, 33, operational commander for the Harrier detachment based in Kandahar, Afghanistan Picture: DANNY LAWSON
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 16, 2006
Words:479
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