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July 7, 2009 - Welsh Guards Bear Brunt as Afghan Death Toll Rises

July 7, 2009 - Welsh Guards Bear Brunt as Afghan Death Toll Rises

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Published by Jim Cooper

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Jim Cooper on May 16, 2010
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05/16/2010

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July 7, 2009
 Welsh Guards bear brunt as Afghan death toll rises
Tom Coghlan at the Shamalan Canal, Helmand Province
“Do you think we are winning?”The Welsh Guardsman was on his stomach with his light machinegun outside Checkpoint 11 when he asked this of the person lying next to him.He listened intently to the open-ended answer and quietly went back to scanning the canal bank for an expected Taleban attack.A week ago it was just another irrigation channel in a dusty corner of Helmand Province. But seven days of relentless fighting for British troopshas turned the Shamalan Canal into a name that is becoming grimly familiar.Several British soldiers have died on the canal’s banks in five days, defending a string of checkpoints thrust about 10 miles straight into theheart of a Taleban-held area northwest of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. A larger, undisclosed number have been injured. Among the deadis the commander of the Welsh Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior British army officer to be killed since theFalklands.The tempo rarely lets up. Attacks at dawn and dusk are routine. One Welsh Guards company was attacked 15 times in a day.As night falls there is something reminiscent of the Western Front about the battlefield. From their positions the soldiers watch parachute flarescast shifting shadows until somewhere the silence is broken: the first thump of a Taleban rocket-propelled grenade, the rattle of Kalashnikov fireand then the heavier chatter of British heavy machineguns and SA80s. Red tracer bullets make graceful arcs and occasionally there is theheavier crump of artillery rounds and clattering cannon fire from Apache helicopters.But why is the fighting so heavy? And is it worth the cost?The position that the British commanders have chosen to push into is an exposed one. There is a single road running along the canal which isthe only line of communication and supply. The Taleban know it and are hitting the road from both sides with as many roadside bombs andambushes as they can put in place.For the British armoured vehicle crews who are supplying the forward troops, most drawn from Egypt Squadron, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, it isparticularly gruelling work. With mine detection specialists from a Royal Engineer unit which calls itself “Team Rainbow” they must movesometimes at a snail’s pace, sweeping the ground ahead of them for hidden devices.Such operations, which often come under fire, are exhausting, frustrating and take place every day. To avoid the bombs the British troops haveto be efficient, and to some degree lucky, all the time; Taleban bombmakers need to be lucky once.The Welsh Guards Reconnaissance Platoon has lost almost two thirds of its strength to casualties over the past two months. Many WelshGuardsmen have fought more firefights than they can remember. Though morale appears solid, some are clearly feeling great strain.“I just feel cold inside,” one very young soldier said in a quiet moment last week, admitting that the death of his platoon commander some weeksearlier had left his unit grief-stricken. In some firefights, he said with odd detachment, he was finding it increasingly hard not to freeze up, to stay
FromThe Times
Page 1 of 2Printer Friendly5/15/2010http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6652448.ece?print=yes&randnum=1273946870365

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