Printer Friendly

When you are dodging death, you want a Scots soldier by your side; War reporter Stephen Grey witnessed incredible courage of fallen hero captain and his comrades fighting the Taliban.

Byline: Stephen Stewart

A WAR reporter who has been in battles all over the world has no doubt about the best person to cover your back when the going gets tough ... a Scottish soldier.

Stephen Grey was embedded with British forces in southern Afghanistan during one of the bloodiest offensives ever launched against the Taliban.

Scots troops were at the heart of Operation Snakebite, which aimed to destroy the insurgents' leadership in the bustling town of Musa Qaleh.

Stephen, who has written a book about the offensive, was with the squaddies night and day in the deadly SanginValley as they prepared to smash the Taliban's command network and cut their supply chain.

He documented the last moments of a brave Scots captain, John McDermid, who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Army's largest attack in Helmand. Captain McDermid, 43, who served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, Second Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed when an explosion ripped through his patrol.

Stephen described the captain's last moments. He said: "McDermid had set off that morning with a team of seven Brits, plus Afghans.

"They had been hearing something that worried them as they listened in on the Taliban's radio network.

"The Taliban were giving names of buildings or clumps of trees they were walking by, and the soldiers turned to each other and said: 'Actually, yes, we are right there.'

"His fears turned out to be well founded. The explosion detonated a concealed 105mm artillery shell. It has been 'daisy-chained' to connect to two pairs of mortar shells.

"There is a blank in the the mind of Lance Corporal Onur Caglar about everything that happened in the instant of the explosion.

"All he can remember is seeing Captain McDermid thrown upwards and consumed in a great fire."

Operation Snakebite, which involved more than 500 British troops, was run by the Edinburghbased 52 Brigade, commanded by Scottish brigadier, Andrew Mackay.

The brigade had been promoted from a minor, non-operational role - including running the Edinburgh Tattoo - to lead the major attack.

A number of other Scots units were involved in the operation, including the Right Flank Company, Scots Guards, inWarrior armoured vehicles, who had lived in the desert for weeks before the assault.

They were in the thick of the main battle, joining paratroopers for the attack on the south of the town.

In sweltering temperatures close to 47 degrees, the joint UK and Afghan National Army (ANA) force was airlifted into the region aboard Chinook helicopters with the protection of heavily-armed attack helicopters and RAF Harriers.

During the operation, which lasted more than 10 hours, British troops and the ANA came under significant fire from Taliban forces.

The Ministry of Defence said: "The battle group responded with overwhelming firepower and deliberate action to dislocate and disrupt the enemy, who had attempted to rule local villages with fear and intimidation."

Stephen said that the assault on the Taliban was proof, if any were needed, that Scots troops were among the best in the British Army.

He said: "Musa Qaleh proved they were up to the job.

"Mackay has since been promoted to general and is the general officer commanding in Scotland."

WHEN it had been recaptured, Musa Qala was handed over to the Fifth Battalion,The Royal Regiment Of Scotland, who carried on the fight.

Stephen revealed the Scottish units kept their sense of humour despite the daily death and destruction. He said: "The Scots troops were sharp-witted and had terrible black humour.

"Many of them are always pulling some prank on you, but you'd want to be alongside a Scotsman more than anyone in action.

"I left my London office and five days later was being shot at and watching all kinds of people being killed, including a British soldier blown up by a mine yards away.

"I was scared and totally flapping.

Luckily, there were a few guys around who knew what they were doing.

"I'd still go back, though. It's a bit addictive and I think people need to know what's going on. This is a massive war.

"Thirteen people died last month. Twelve battles are fought every day.

"Our troops are risking their lives on a mission set by politicians who barely pay attention.

"I think they deserve not only our support but also a lot of pressure put on those in power to give the troops the resources they need and the help to find a strategy that could mean we will win this war."

Following the success of Operation Snakebite, Lieutenant Colonel David Reynolds, a spokesman for the Helmand task force, said: "Our immediate concern is for the family of the soldier we lost, and our thoughts are with them.

"However, the priority of the operation was to dominate Musa Qaleh and disrupt enemy forces in order to return stability to the area.

"This objective was overwhelmingly achieved. Let's be clear. It was a demanding operation but morale is, has been and remains high.

"The guys on the ground are highly motivated, well trained and wellequipped.

"Suggestions that British forces are being out-gunned or facing a Rorke's Drift scenario are incorrect.

"The operation was hard and intense, but the battle group and the ANA, with supporting attack helicopters and RAF Harriers, had overwhelming firepower.

"Our main aim in Helmand, alongside the ANA, is clearly to mount a programme of reconstruction.

"But, in the short term, as we face attacks from Afghanistan's enemies, who continue to intimidate and kill innocent civilians, we are forced to mount deliberate operations in order to diminish their ability."

The UK Government said Operation Snakebite was a huge success and managed to thwart Taliban insurgents "who have continued to attack innocent civilians and fracture stability in the south of the country".

As well as disrupting the Taliban's command and control network, it also cut the insurgents' supply chain to stop them moving freely in the extremely dangerous Helmand Province.

The British Government said the operation had brought further security to the region.

According to the Government's figures, the UK has provided more than pounds 37.65 million to support security sector reform in Afghanistan since 2002.

At the time of Operation Snakebite, some pounds 10million had been spent on supporting the development of the Afghan National Army and more than pounds 4million to support the Afghan National Police Force.

A total of 30,000 police have been trained and equipped.

Since 2001, nearly 2000 schools have been built or rehabilitated and over five million children are in school. More than one third are girls.


MAN OF WAR: Brigadier Andrew Mackay, the Scottish commander of Operation Snakebite, main image, and British troops in Musa Qaleh THE FRONT LINE: Stephen Grey, top, on patrol with troops in Helmand,and smoking the Taliban out of Musa Qaleh Operation Snakebite: The Explosive True Story Of An Afghan Desert Siege - Penguin, pounds 16.99. FALLEN HERO: Captain John McDermid, who was killed in Helmand, with his wife, Gill, and his final journey home
COPYRIGHT 2009 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 7, 2009
Previous Article:Ryanair in stool plan.
Next Article:Scots chop donations to charity; Recession biting.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters