MoD to ban HELMAND: The Soldiers’ Story exhibition

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by armchair_jihad, Aug 3, 2007.

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  1. The exhibition opened today and I have just been to see it, its excellent, very engaging and informative.

    It’s a magnificent tribute to magnificent Men and Women.

    No excuses if your in London, go and see it, if your outside London make an effort.

    http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/pages/helmand.shtml
     
  2. Cheers for the info, will go and see it tomorrow.
     
  3. Just had a read, I didnt know anything about the opening today. The lads have got it all again in March so I think I'll nip and have a look before OPTAG training. :D
     
  4. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Decent piece about it in the Daily Mail
    I can feel a trip t'smoke coming on

    Dispatches from hell: life on the Afghan frontline revealed in a new exhibition

    Much of the footage is grainy and shot in bad light, but the life-threatening nature of the human drama is clear.

    We are taken into the heart of firefights, sense the shock of being ambushed and relive brave and desperate rescues.

    We feel the crump of mortars exploding and watch the flashes of light as the enemy returns fire. There is dust, adrenaline and expletives.

    Then comes a devastating trail of fire from the sky, creating craters in the earth. The explosions are visible before you hear the whine of the gun.

    The figures in the makeshift shelter thank God for the air support.

    These compelling images are from videos taken by British soldiers in Afghanistan. This is the reality of that war.

    There is a raw, insider quality about the footage that television coverage cannot match.

    The images are all the more remarkable for being made public by the British Army, displayed in an astonishing museum exhibition that looks back not at the conflict of a previous generation, but at battles happening now.

    And it is all the more poignant opening today, so soon after four more members of the UK Armed Forces were killed in southern Afghanistan - including a Royal Marine.

    There have now been more casualties in this war than in Basra in Iraq. Since fighting began in Helmand last summer there have been 61 deaths, compared to 48 in Basra.

    The rate of attrition is higher than in World War II.

    It is a different kind of war. The enemy is more likely to be a sniper than a roadside bomb. It is a war fought on foot, in a land that is one great battlefield.

    The injuries are from gunfire sustained during daily skirmishes in temperatures of over 46 degrees centigrade.

    To understand what it is like, press a button in the exhibition's audio display and hear the matter-of-fact account by Sergeant Andy Stockton of the moment he realised that his arm had been severed by shrapnel.

    He calmly instructs his fellow soldier where to tie an armband to stem the flow, because his own hands are too slippery with blood.

    This is the brutal nature of our presence in Afghanistan.

    Yet it was never meant to be like this. A small force of 3,300 troops arrived in May last year on a humanitarian mission to help the local people.

    The then Defence Secretary, John Reid, famously assured the British public that he hoped there would not be a shot fired in anger.

    However, within weeks, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade were under constant fire and fighting with bayonets.

    By the time the Brigade finished their tour in October, 479,000 rounds of ammunition had been fired in 498 exchanges with the Taliban, many lasting for hours.

    Our soldiers had come close to running out of food, water and ammunition.

    Nobody slept through a night.

    Medical teams were working five hours a day, seven days a week. Fifteen soldiers were killed and 46 wounded.

    As the commanding officer of the 3 Para battle group, Lt Col Stuart Tootal, put it to me this week, in an ironic echo of Reid's statement: "The fighting was continuous and unrelenting.

    "Every man and woman became a fighter. I don't know anyone who didn't fire a shot in anger."

    These were the origins of our present commitment to Afghanistan. There are now 7,700 troops there, more than the 5,500 in Iraq.

    It is the war that is unchallenged by Gordon Brown and supported by the Generals. Yet that summer of 2006 was a premonition of the future.

    The mission is as difficult as it is indefinite. The Americans would like larger scale military action and more air bombing of the border areas where the Taliban regroup.

    The Americans are also frustrated with the British softlysoftly approach to the heroin crops.

    The British still believe they can win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and that that is the way to beat the Taliban, while their exasperation is with the European Nato countries who are not committing troops and will not share the tougher, more dangerous operations.

    The battle for hearts and minds sounds a noble notion when it is aired in the safety of Whitehall.

    But what does it mean in the choking heat and dust of Helmand Province, where you cannot tell who is a friend and who is an enemy and where you are as likely to be greeted with a Rocket Propelled Grenade as a handshake?

    It's a place which soldiers refer to as Hell Land.

    The exhibition is at the National Army Museum and is called simply The Soldiers' Story.

    It was conceived by members of 16 Air Assault Brigade who want the public to see what they would otherwise not believe. Here is the blood sacrifice.

    Para signaller Rowan Bailey, who was 18 last summer, said to me that he had not yet told his family what happened because he did not know how to.

    It is difficult now to remember the optimism with which the Government sent in the Army.

    Winning hearts and minds meant setting up outposts in villages away from the main camps. The Taliban swarmed around these until the Apache helicopters arrived and rescued our platoons.

    On the walls are soldiers' testimonies of the action they describe briskly as "intense".

    One account reads: "Safety catch off and return fire. Now the problem was where to fire; the enemy was not seen and we knew that our friendly call sign was somewhere ahead. The last thing we wanted to happen was a blue on blue (friendly fire)."

    Another remembers: "Everybody was firing on instinct, locating the enemy by the crack and thump of rounds."

    I spoke to a platoon of Gurkhas at the exhibition, proud and immaculate in blazers and ties. They had been ambushed at Sangin, a Taliban swamp in the north of the Province.

    They talked of snipers hidden in alleyways, behind the small windows of houses, on roof-tops. The information from local police was sometimes true and sometimes maliciously false, so every judgment was an act of faith.

    As for the support of the local population, it was always conditional on winning. The platoon commander, a quiet, intelligent man, said that the Afghans expected instant results.

    If command of the area and economic benefits were not quickly visible, then they were ready to be wooed by the Taliban again.

    The respected military author Patrick Bishop is publishing a book this autumn about the summer of 2006. He believes that the experience of Afghanistan has changed what it means to be a British soldier.

    "It was a new war - nothing quite like it had been fought before, not even in Korea. You were fighting every day. Every time you set foot outside, you were shot at."

    A young tank gunner's testament at the exhibition bears this out: "I remember sitting there, I could see little silhouettes of people coming along, I could see the bullets flying over the tops of the vehicles.

    "I could hear the guys on top cover firing back.

    "There were bullets bouncing off my window, and all along all the vehicles we were getting hit by bullets."

    A year on, Lt Col Tootal reflects on what happened. "We went there to provide peace support and construction but we were suddenly involved in the most intense fighting since the Falklands.

    "These were not set-piece battles, they were continuous engagements. It was eyeball to eyeball, slugging it out."

    Afghanistan was meant to be a positive contrast to Iraq. We knew why we were there, we had a mandate and we were proud to be leading the Nato forces.

    Afghanistan was the cradle of 9/11. Soldiers trying to save face in Iraq were envious of those sent to the popular mission in Afghanistan.

    From the moment our troops arrived, something was clearly wrong. Everyone was stretched to breaking point. No one talked any more of building schools or solving the heroin problem.

    Instead, 3,300 British troops were scattered round an area half the size of England, fighting a newly resurgent enemy.

    Lt Col Tootal believes the situation is now more stable - partly because of the respect earned by those 3,300 fighting men and their logistical support.

    However, the question is: how and at what cost?

    Defence chiefs are adamant that conditions have improved. There are now 7,700 troops, they are better equipped and we are sharing the burden with other countries.

    Some construction is under way, infant mortality is reduced and more girls are returning to schools, having been banished by the Taliban.

    But for the Army it is still a desolate and dangerous place, where you are likely at least to be felled by diarrhoea.

    (Last summer, 140 men were sharing three toilets, which were actually oil drums.)

    And as many Taliban as we kill, there are more being trained in the madrassas of Quetta in Pakistan. Our young soldiers leaving for Afghanistan with little knowledge of the place come back harder and wiser.

    Some do not return.

    The truth is that in all the political controversy over Iraq, we have lost sight of the greater battle of Afghanistan. Tony Blair introduced the war apocalyptically:

    "This extraordinary piece of desert in the middle of Afghanistan - the middle of nowhere - is where the future of world security in the early 21st century is going to be played out."

    If this is indeed the case, and our soldiers are daily losing their lives for the cause, shouldn't Gordon Brown be concentrating his efforts here, before turning his attention to Africa?

    There is a testament on the summer of 2006 at the exhibition from Brigadier Ed Butler, who commanded 16 Air Assault Brigade during its six-month tour.

    It is placed near a roll call of the dead and is a powerful reminder of the debt we already owe to our soldiers:

    "The costs in blood and treasure have been high but the determination, fortitude and quite exceptional bravery to achieve the task in hand has been humbling.

    "This must never be taken for granted by the nation."
     
  5. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmpppppppppp
     
  6. anybody else been?
     
  7. Yes, was there on the opening night. Good, interesting and informative, get down if you can.
     
  8. bump i live in bromley shall go an see it sharpish!
     
  9. I have been trying to get a couple of schools down to visit, see if you can do the same.
     
  10. Coming to london in November, cant wait to see it
     
  11. Cheers for the heads up, will be there next week.


    fastmedic
     
  12. As elements of this exhibition run against new MoD guidelines concerning speaking to the press and the public this exhibition is now scheduled to be closed



    see it while you can