In five months, the crews have fired about 2,500 high explosive (HE), white phosphorous (WP) and illumination rounds through their 81mm mortars, to devastating effect. It is known that the enemy has been trying to figure a way to target the mortars in these photos, but the reality is that the enemy will likely have to keep suffering the barrages. Taliban in the open are often simply at the mercy of the mortar.
Today, a serious mission was afoot, and the mortar crews were following the progress of the infantry by constantly aiming the mortars at targets that would support the infantry as they advanced. At least one jet was overhead and also a British Apache was on station.
This was another serious fight, with some close calls for 2 Para soldiers out there on the ground. At least nine Taliban were almost certainly killed, and another was wounded. The locals reported, “Many Taliban killed.”
I was taking some notes for this dispatch when the sniper started early, firing over FOB Gibraltar for the fifth day in a row. He started early, recklessly and foolishly with about 10 shots, between about 1220 and 1225 in the afternoon. He seemed to be begging to get shot, but still nobody could see him.
04 September, 2008
That morning a dicker was watching a patrol. A British sniper had him in the crosshairs, and the rangefinder put him at 820 meters. The Taliban dicker was behind a wall, and was visible only from mid-belly up. The time was 0715 when a British sniper squeezed the trigger, launching a .338 bullet that arced to the target, striking the dicker in the neck. He fell.
Just over an hour later, another dicker, this one at about 800 meters, took a British 7.62 bullet in the buttocks. The man was dressed in black. He fell.
Incredibly, both men had survived the snipers. Locals brought the shot men to the British, who treated them as if they were wounded soldiers. Journalists are not permitted to photograph or interview captured enemy combatants, but I did ask Major Dawson if I could observe how they were being treated. Major Dawson obliged immediately. Both men were conscious and lucid. The British soldiers, the doctor and medics, were treating the prisoners diligently and respectfully, and given that my visit was on about 30 seconds’ notice, it was a candid moment.
And so a medevac helicopter was called and took one man away to be treated at the trauma center. A second helicopter came for the Taliban dressed in black. The British are dangerously short on helicopters, yet three times I saw the British call helicopters for wounded men, who in each case I thought were either Taliban or at least their allies. I boarded the helicopter with some British soldiers and the Taliban prisoner, and we roared out of FOB Gibraltar.
The story of 2 Para and 3 Para will never be fully told. But it’s obvious that they did their duties as soldiers, in so many missions that I was briefed on but have not described here, such as helping deliver the critical turbine to the Kajaki dam. Despite the bad trajectory of the war in general, there have been some stunning successes.
The British soldiers will not quit. Despite hardship and loss in Iraq when their own press veritably disowned them, the soldiers kept fighting in Iraq (there really was some serious fighting down there in Basra), and their morale was far higher than the British media would have us believe.
My first month back in Afghanistan leaves mixed impressions. Clearly we are losing and the clock is ticking. But then, we nearly lost Iraq in 2006, yet that war was turned around at the very brink of disaster. Losing doesn’t mean lost. It means try harder and try smarter. Keep slugging and keep thinking.
Days after I left FOB Gibraltar, word came that Jason Rawstron, a British soldier from 2 Para had been shot in the head and killed.
I took a moment of private silence, and later saw this:
2ND BATTALION, THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT
12TH SEPTEMBER 2008
Lieutenant Colonel Joe O’Sullivan, Commanding Officer 2 PARA paid tribute to Private Jason Rawstron on the night of his death:
Early this morning C (Bruneval) Company were conducting a patrol from their base at Forward Operating Base GIBRALTAR when they were engaged by the Taliban, and in the exchange of fire Private Jason Rawstron was killed. Jason Rawstron began his service with C (Bruneval) Company 2 PARA, and although he later moved to the Assault Engineer Platoon, it was to Bruneval Company that he returned for the Battalion’s tour in Afghanistan. Bruneval is the Parachute Regiment’s first Battle Honour, and Jason Rawstron, like all of his friends in today’s Bruneval Company and across the Battalion, was every bit the Paratrooper of that first Bruneval Company 66 years ago; tough, resourceful, fearless under the fire that he had experienced so often and never knowing defeat. He joins eleven other members of 2 PARA Battlegroup who have given their lives for their friends and what they have been asked to do in this part of Helmand. Bruneval Company and all of us in 2 PARA Battlegroup will mourn Jason Rawstron and our hearts go out to his family and friends at home. We hope that what he was, and what he and friends and his battalion stand for and have achieved in this most demanding of summers will in some small way bring them comfort at this most painful time.
To read the first two parts of this series: