SAS troops killed in midnight ambush


SAS troops killed in midnight ambush

By Tim Albone in Kabul and Michael Evans, Defence Editor
The Times June 28, 2006

TWO SAS soldiers were killed in a midnight ambush in southern Afghanistan during an hour-long firefight with the Taleban, which ended only after an RAF Harrier and an army Apache attack helicopter bombarded hostile positions.

The battle erupted on Monday as an undercover unit of SAS soldiers was operating on the outskirts of Sangin in the northern part of Helmand province. The unit came under sustained fire, and as the special forces troops took up defensive positions, they called for back-up. The soldiers who were killed were on foot.

Defence sources said that a quick-reaction force from 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery arrived in Land Rovers, equipped with 105mm light artillery. The rescue force also came under fire and one of its Land Rovers was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Last night the Ministry of Defence would not release either the names of the soldiers or confirm their regiment until next of kin had been informed. A third soldier was seriously wounded.

As part of the back-up, a Harrier GR7 and an Apache attack helicopter provided air support, targeting Taleban positions, and the 105mm light guns were also used. The deployment of air power and artillery underlined the scale of the ambush and the determination of the British to seize control of Sangin, which military sources described as “a toxic mixture” of Taleban and drug traffickers.

While these are the first members of the SAS believed to have been killed in Afghanistan, the British Army has now lost three of its soldiers in the Sangin area since deploying to Helmand a few weeks ago. Captain James Philippson of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery was the first to be killed in Sangin. He was shot while trying to rescue colleagues from an ambush two weeks ago. Ten have been killed in Afghanistan since the British were first deployed there, in November 2001.

The Taleban, who, it is believed, lost several fighters in the attack on Monday, immediately claimed responsibility for the deaths, with Qari Mohammed Yousaf, its purported spokesman, telling the Reuters news agency that his fighters carried out the ambush.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, offered his deepest condolences to the families of the latest victims. He had hinted that it was a special forces operation when he said that the soldiers were not part of the Helmand battle group.

The district of Sangin, in the mountainous north of the province, is known to be a hotbed of Taleban activity. The steep valley sides provide ideal places from which to launch ambushes. The area has no roads, only dusty tracks, and Taleban fighters know the terrain well.

The British were airlifted in by Chinook helicopters from Camp Bastion, the main British base, only weeks ago and are still learning the terrain. Movements are hampered by sweltering heat, of about 45C (113F).

The troops are particularly vulnerable to rocket attacks and roadside bombs because the armoured Land Rovers that they drive were designed for Northern Ireland and offer only light Kevlar protection. However, military sources emphasised that “no one died inside a Land Rover” on Monday.

In other violence, two Afghan soldiers and 11 Taleban rebels were killed in fighting 20 miles north of Sangin in the town of Musa Qala. In the province of Uruzgan, which borders Helmand, a further ten militants were killed after their compound was stormed by coalition and Afghan forces.

In Ghazni province police and Taleban clashed, leaving three militants dead. A suicide attack targeting a German military convoy in the province of Kunduz killed two Afghan civilians as well as the bomber.


There are 3,300 troops of 16 Air Assault Brigade — which includes 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment — and eight Apache helicopters, at Lashkar Gah, Helmand province

1,000 troops are in Kabul with the HQ staff of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force

200 RAF personnel with six Harrier GR7 bombers are in Kandahar

Total military presence: about 5,000, including Royal Engineers building Camp Bastion, the main base in Helmand province

Total casualties: ten since November 2001. Five have died from hostile action

Two British soldiers killed in Afghanistan
• SBS men die after ambush in Taliban stronghold
• 12 insurgents killed by artillery and air strike

Richard Norton-Taylor and Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Wednesday June 28, 2006

Two SBS special forces soldiers were killed and another seriously injured early yesterday in an hour-long gunfight after being ambushed in the Sangin Valley, a notorious Taliban sanctuary in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

The attack was one of three major gun battles that erupted across the southern provinces, underscoring the dangers facing British and other Nato troops as they aim to curb the Taliban resurgence.

The soldiers from the Special Boat Service were returning from a night patrol when insurgents hit their armoured "snatch" Land Rover with a rocket-propelled grenade. The soldiers left the vehicle and two died in the ensuing battle. The injuries to the third were described last night as serious but not life-threatening.

Other SBS soldiers called in a quick reaction force of paratroopers from the nearby joint British-Afghan military base in the town of Sangin, which also came under Taliban fire. British commanders also called in 105mm light artillery and air support from British Harrier jets, Apache attack helicopters and American A-10 "warthog" low-flying jets. The provincial police chief said 12 Taliban were killed and 20 were injured in the attack. Such bloody confrontations have become daily events in Afghanistan's most violent period since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. This year more than 1,100 people have died, including about 50 foreign troops.

The SBS soldiers were the second and third combat fatalities since the start of operations in Helmand province, a lawless area rife with Taliban insurgents and opium production. Captain Jim Philippson, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, was killed in Sangin this month. The 3,300 British troops in Helmand are spearheading an ambitious 9,000-troop Nato deployment to the southern provinces that is due to start on July 31.

A company of about 150 British paratroopers was deployed to Sangin last week after a spate of attacks that killed about 40 Afghan soldiers. The SBS, which patrols in small groups, is likely to have been in the area for longer. Captain Drew Gibson, a British military spokesman in southern Afghanistan, said he saw the clashes as a sign of greater stability. "If you put more troops into an area it will rattle people's cages. The enemy has less freedom of movement and they react to that."

Yesterday's casualties may stoke the controversy surrounding British troops' use of open-topped Land Rovers, which offer limited protection. "It's a balance of protection, mobility and risk," said Capt Gibson. "If you drive around in fully armoured vehicles you can't talk to the local population." The vehicles have been criticised as a soft target after the roadside bombs which have killed some 18 British soldiers in Iraq. Des Browne, defence secretary, told MPs on Monday that the issue was being reviewed. Defence sources said possible alternatives include the RG-31 mine-protected armoured vehicle made by a BAE Systems subsidiary in South Africa and used by US forces in Iraq.

Responding to questions about equipment available to UK forces in Afghanistan, Tony Blair's spokesman said last night: "Let us be clear that the very sad deaths today were down to those who attacked British troops. We shouldn't make it any more complicated than it is. Our thoughts are with their families."

Militants yesterday ambushed an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol in Musa Qala, about 20 miles to the north of Sangin. Two Afghan soldiers and 11 Taliban insurgents were killed, said General Rahmatullah Roufi, the ANA commander for southern Afghanistan. Firefights also raged in Ghazni and Uruzgan provinces, leaving at least 13 Taliban dead, according to Afghan authorities. In northern Afghanistan two civilians were killed and eight wounded after a suicide car bomb exploded outside a German military base in Kunduz, a normally peaceful province.

In the Commons, Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, said he had just returned from the country and was shocked to see how badly reconstruction efforts were coordinated.

The former Labour Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin pointed to problems with the crop substitution programme in Helmand province, which aims to stop farmers growing opium poppies. Several hundred Afghan farmers' cheques had not been honoured, he told MPs. "Unsurprisingly, they're rather angry about it and we are bearing some of the brunt of their anger".

FAQ The mission

How many British troops are there in Afghanistan?

More than 5,000 will be deployed this summer, most of them - more than 3,000 - based near Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, a hostile region and centre of the opium poppy trade in the south. Combat troops include 3 Para, supported by Apache attack helicopters.

Under whose command are they?

Brigadier Ed Butler is commander of the taskforce in Helmand. It is part of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, which has its headquarters in Kabul under the command of Lt Gen Sir David Richards.

What is their aim?

In the British government's words, "to spread the authority of the Afghan government across the country" by building up local Afghan forces, and developing the economy.

How are they meant to achieve it?

By defeating insurgents, including Taliban supporters, criminals and drug smugglers. British troops have more robust rules of engagement than most of their European Nato allies who have forces there.

How long will they be there for?

The initial deployment is for three years. However, the government admits there can be no long-term stability in Afghanistan unless the opium trade is "tackled", and that will take many years. That task, it says, is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan authorities, with money from the international community.
RIP fellas
Rest in Peace gentlemen.
Rest in Peace

Lest We Forget
Rest in Peace

Our thoughts are with your loved ones.

Latest Threads